May 9, 2023
LABUAN BAJO – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has urged Asean leaders to resolve the conflict in Myanmar through dialogue, not sanctions, as his country prepares to host the Asean Summit on Wednesday.
As the rotating chair of Asean in 2023, Indonesia has sought to uphold “the principle of collaboration and cooperation with anyone”, and to ensure the regional bloc “does not become a proxy for anybody or any country”, he stressed.
“As we want Asean to be open, to cooperate with anyone and any country, resolving problems within Asean ought to happen through the principle of dialogue. This is very important, especially in the case of Myanmar,” Mr Widodo told reporters on Sunday after he arrived in Labuan Bajo, the fishing town on Flores Island in eastern Indonesia that is the venue of the two-day conference.
Several countries, including the United States and Britain, have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s junta over its military coup on Feb 1, 2021. Civil unrest in the wake of the coup has killed hundreds of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands.
As one of the junta’s most vocal critics in Asean, Indonesia faces mounting pressure from rights groups to take harsher measures to address the military regime’s atrocities.
“(The Myanmar issue) will be discussed specifically… but it must be resolved through a dialogue. Sanctions, in my opinion, are not a solution,” said Mr Widodo, or Jokowi as he is better known.
The President reiterated that the five-point consensus issued in April 2021 by nine Asean leaders and junta chief Min Aung Hlaing will remain a valid reference.
The agreement called for a dialogue among all parties, an immediate halt to violence in Myanmar, the appointment of an Asean special envoy to facilitate mediation, for Asean to provide humanitarian assistance, and for a visit by an Asean delegation to Myanmar to meet all concerned parties.
In a media briefing on Monday, Mr Widodo also criticised an attack on Asean officials delivering humanitarian aid in Myanmar, but added that it would not deter efforts to end the violence.
Without elaborating on the incident, when it happened and who was behind it, he said: “The AHA Centre (Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management), accompanied by the Asean monitoring team, was going to hand over humanitarian aid, but it was very unfortunate that on the way there was a shoot-out.”
“This (incident) will not dampen the determination of Asean and Indonesia to once again make a call to stop the violence, and stop using force, because it is the people who will become the victims… this situation will not bring victory to anyone,” added Mr Widodo.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said last Friday that Indonesia had undertaken “non-megaphone diplomacy” to build trust and sort out the crisis through more than 60 “engagements” involving Myanmar’s ousted National Unity Government, its military regime and the United Nations.
The President on Sunday also urged Myanmar “to play an active role in the dialogues” that Asean has initiated.
Asean has barred Myanmar’s ruling junta from key meetings since 2022 due to its failure to implement the peace plan, including starting talks with its opponents and ending the violence.
A non-political representative from military-ruled Myanmar has been invited to attend the summit.
Eight leaders, as well as Asean secretary-general Kao Kim Hourn, are expected to attend.
Mr Taur Matan Ruak, the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, will also attend the meeting for the first time as an observer as his country seeks to join the grouping, according to Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry.
Labuan Bajo, the main gateway to Komodo National Park, has become a hive of activity ahead of the 42nd Asean Summit, the first of two summits, with the latter scheduled to be held in Jakarta in September. Banners bearing the Asean summit logo hang from lamp posts, restaurants are full and hotel rooms are packed with delegates and journalists.
Mr Widodo, who has been keenly promoting new tourist destinations in Indonesia, acknowledged that hotel rooms were not sufficient to accommodate those involved in the meeting, but a passenger ship with a capacity of 2,000 passengers had been prepared as floating accommodation.
He said: “This is a very good momentum, we are holding the Asean Summit in Labuan Bajo to market Labuan Bajo. So that all the world knows there is a place called Labuan Bajo in East Nusa Tenggara.”