'Frank' talks on Myanmar dominate ASEAN foreign ministers meeting

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Foreign Ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), including East Timor's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Adaljiza Magno prepare to pose for group photos during the 32nd ASEAN Coordinating Council (ACC) meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 3, 2023. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

JAKARTA (Reuters) - The conflict in Myanmar dominated the year's first meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Jakarta on Friday, with Indonesia's top diplomat saying that member states had "frank" discussions on the issue.

The foreign minister of Indonesia, which chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, said the bloc was pushing for inclusive dialogue between all stakeholders in Myanmar, with ASEAN candidly discussing the issue on Friday.

Retno Marsudi spoke after the opening of a retreat with her regional counterparts, which Myanmar's junta leaders have been barred from attending.

"The meeting is dedicated to discuss the Myanmar issue in an open, in-depth, and frank manner as one family," she said in a news conference.

Since seizing power in a Feb. 1 coup two years ago, Myanmar's junta has plunged the country in chaos and violence, and failed to implement an ASEAN peace plan, which includes the cessation of conflict and the start of dialogue.

Reducing violence and allowing humanitarian aid would be key to ensuring talks could begin, Retno said.

ASEAN chair Indonesia has vowed not to be "held hostage" by the Myanmar issue. But just days after the junta announced an extension of emergency rule, the regional bloc faces tough questions about how to handle the crisis as frustration grows with the junta's lack of progress on a so-called five-point peace plan they agreed to.

Junta leaders have been barred from attending high-level ASEAN meetings but representation at other events would continue to be discussed, said Indonesian foreign ministry official Sidharto R. Suryodipuro, on the sidelines of Friday's event.

"As to other meetings, it will be an ongoing consultation," he said, "But the principle is that at the moment, no side has the legitimacy to sit in the Myanmar chair."

Earlier this week Indonesian President Joko Widodo told Reuters he was planning to send a top military general to meet with Myanmar's junta leaders in an attempt to engage them in talks about a democratic transition.

The Indonesian government has declined to provide further details about its military envoy but the president said he hoped the general would travel "as soon as possible".

(Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)

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