ASEAN leaders call for timeline on Myanmar peace

ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) -Southeast Asian heads of government on Friday issued a "warning" to Myanmar to make measurable progress on a peace plan or risk being barred from the bloc's meetings, as social and political chaos escalates in the country.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said that after "little progress" on the five-point peace consensus agreed jointly last year, leaders concluded a need for "concrete, practical and measurable indicators with a specific timeline."

It added that ASEAN would review Myanmar's representation at all levels of meetings, having barred its military leaders from top meetings since last year. Myanmar's chair sat empty at Friday's summit in Phnom Penh.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who last week said the junta is solely to blame for the failing peace process, said Friday's statement sent "a strong message or even a warning to the junta".

The military government's foreign ministry on Friday issued an objection to the ASEAN statement, saying it would not follow its recommendations. It has previously blamed lack of progress on the pandemic and obstruction from armed resistance movements.

Political, social and economic chaos have gripped Myanmar since the military overthrew an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi last year and unleashed a deadly crackdown on dissent that unravelled years of tentative moves towards democracy.

ASEAN, which has a long-standing tradition of non-interference in members' sovereign affairs, has ruled out Western-style sanctions against Myanmar or expelling it from the 10-member group, even as it condemns increasingly violent actions by the junta such as the executions of democracy activists and an air strike that killed at least 50 people.

Some activists said ASEAN's decision on Friday did not go far enough.

"The fact that ASEAN still hasn't suspended the junta's participation throughout the entire ASEAN system represents a continued lack of leadership on this issue and tacit permission for the junta to continue its crimes," said Patrick Phongsathorn of Fortify Rights.

GLOBAL TENSIONS

After holding their own closed-door talks, ASEAN leaders also discussed other tensions in the region, including the Korean peninsula and Taiwan, with global leaders including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in separate meetings.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are scheduled to hold discussions with the group on Saturday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will also attend some meetings.

Cambodian Prime Minister and ASEAN host Hun Sen addressed Friday's opening ceremony with a call for vigilance and wisdom during times of economic and geopolitical turmoil.

"We are now at the most uncertain juncture; the lives of millions in our region depend on our wisdom and foresight," he said.

Separately at the summit, ASEAN agreed in principle to admit East Timor as the group's 11th member. Asia's youngest democracy started the process of accession in 2002, but only formally applied for membership in 2011.

(Reporting by Phnom Penh bureau, Ananda Teresia in Jakarta, Poppy McPherson and Juarawee Kittisilpa in Bangkok, Karen Lema in Manila, Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur. Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Ed Davies.Editing by Alex Richardson, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Toby Chopra)