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ASEAN agrees to talk to Myanmar opposition

Southeast Asian leaders agreed Friday to engage Myanmar opposition groups as they seek ways to quell the country’s escalating bloodshed which has seen thousands killed in clashes since last year’s coup.

The Myanmar crisis dominated the first day of a gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc in Phnom Penh that US President Joe Biden will join on Saturday.

Myanmar has spiralled into bloody conflict since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government in February last year.

ASEAN agreed a “five-point consensus” peace plan with Myanmar in April last year but the junta has so far ignored it and the bloc has struggled for months to come up with ways to enforce it.

Frustrated by the generals’ foot-dragging, leaders on Friday tasked their foreign ministers with drawing up “an implementation plan that outlines concrete, practical and measurable indicators with specific timeline”.

In a 15-point statement thrashed out over two days of difficult talks among foreign ministers, the bloc agreed to “engage all stakeholders soon”.

“Engagement would be done in a flexible and informal manner, primarily undertaken by the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar,” the leaders’ statement said.

This will likely involve meeting representatives of Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), a self-declared parallel body dominated by former lawmakers from Suu Kyi’s party.

The leaders also warned the generals that if they do not step up, the bloc could expand a ban on junta figures attending ASEAN meetings.

“This is a warning, this is a strong message from the leaders,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters.

ASEAN has blocked Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from attending the gathering in Phnom Penh, which Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is also