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ASEAN agrees on East Timor but Myanmar crisis clouds summit

November 11, 2022

After waiting more than a decade, East Timor will now be able to attend meetings en route to gaining full membership. Meanwhile, violence in Myanmar continues to cast a shadow over ASEAN.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo start his working agenda in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, by visiting the Royal Palace of Cambodia
It was much easier for the 10-nation bloc to agree on East Timor than reach a consensus over the violence in MyanmarImage: Laily Rachev/Presidential Secretariat Press Bureau

Southeast Asian leaders on Friday agreed to allow East Timor to join the ASEAN regional bloc, but there was little optimism over the ongoing violence in Myanmar, with turmoil in the member state having spiraled out of control since the military seized power in February 2021.

"We the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations... agreed in principle to admit Timor-Leste to be the 11th member of ASEAN," according to a statement released by summit host Cambodia.

One of the poorest countries in the world, which only gained independence from Indonesia in 2002, East Timor was initially granted observer status and the right to attend ASEAN meetings and summits.

The bloc of ten nations will now draw up a roadmap whereby it will set out the criteria the former Portuguese colony must meet before being granted full membership.

Myanmar five-step peace plan a long way off

There was no consensus, however, over how to pressure Myanmar to comply with a five-step proposal for peace in the country.

Since seizing power in a military coup some 20 months ago, Myanmar leaders have been banned from participating in ASEAN's top-level events.

In an effort to end the violence, the bloc's plan, which Myanmar's junta initially agreed to but have shown no willingness to implement, includes calls for the immediate cessation of fighting, all parties to meet, mediation by an ASEAN envoy, provision of humanitarian aid, and a visit to the country by the special envoy to meet all sides for dialogue.

Can ASEAN do more to stop the violence in Myanmar?

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose country takes the bloc's rotating chair after Cambodia, told reporters on the sidelines of the summit that he had proposed broadening the ban, beyond summits, on Myanmar leaders, something urged by human rights groups.

"Indonesia is deeply disappointed the situation in Myanmar is worsening," he said. "We must not allow the situation in Myanmar to define ASEAN."

Hun Sen kicks off summit with a call for peace

Earlier on Friday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen opened the summit with a call for unity both in the region and globally.

During a speech at the opening ceremony in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen praised the bloc and its diplomatic efforts to ensure peace.

He said ASEAN was "a community that remains central to the evolving regional architecture and one that forges external partnerships based on mutual trust and respect for regional and global peace, security and sustainable growth."

ASEAN spokesman urges restraint after Pelosi's Taiwan visit

jsi/wmr (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)