JAKARTA: Southeast Asian foreign ministers began meeting in Jakarta on Thursday (Oct 27) to discuss how to kick-start a stalled peace process in military-ruled Myanmar, where dozens have been killed in recent weeks as violence escalated.
The meeting at the secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Indonesian capital will not be attended by any representatives from Myanmar.
Myanmar's generals have been barred from high-level ASEAN meetings since last year, when the army ousted Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government, detaining her and thousands of activists and launching a deadly crackdown that has given rise to armed resistance movements.
Recent weeks have seen some of the bloodiest incidents in Myanmar, including the bombing of Myanmar's largest prison and an air strike in Kachin State on Sunday, which local media said killed at least 50 people.
ASEAN chair Cambodia has said the talks aimed to come up with recommendations on how to push forward the peace process ahead of the bloc's summit next month.
Myanmar had been invited to send a non-political representative to the meeting in Indonesia, but the junta did not agree, according to the host government.
ASEAN is leading the international peace effort but the junta has done little to honour its commitments in a peace plan agreed with the group last year.
The five-point "consensus" included an immediate halt to violence and starting dialogue towards a peace agreement, as well as allowing an envoy of the ASEAN chair to facilitate mediation and for ASEAN to provide humanitarian assistance.
A spokesperson for Myanmar's military government did not answer a call seeking comment on Thursday but the head of the junta has previously blamed a lack of progress implementing the plan on instability in the country and the challenges of the pandemic.
A source with knowledge of the discussions said Indonesia is seeking to strengthen the five-point consensus so that it is clearer what is expected in each area and to provide a stronger mandate for the special envoy.
There was also interest among some ASEAN members to seek quiet negotiations with the junta, the source said.
An Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman said he was not aware of the contents of the discussions.
ASEAN has a longstanding policy of non-interference in members' sovereign affairs, but some nations have called for the bloc to be bolder in taking action against the junta.
The top US diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, called on Wednesday the situation in Myanmar "tragic" and said finding a way to deal with it was a "key priority" for Thursday's meeting in Jakarta.
He said the US, which has imposed sanctions on the military leadership, would take "additional steps to put pressure on the regime," but did not elaborate.