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With generals barred, Myanmar junta sends bureaucrat to Asean meeting

Military-ruled Myanmar sent a bureaucrat to Monday's meeting (Jan 29) of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Laos, Indonesia's top diplomat said, adding the move was in line with Asean's policy on the conflict-torn country's attendance.

Myanmar's ruling generals remain barred from key meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) over their failure to implement a peace plan agreed with the bloc two months after a 2021 coup that unleashed chaos in the country.

Asean has a policy of inviting Myanmar to send what it calls a "non-political" representative instead, but the junta has in the past two years declined, furious over what it calls Asean interference in its internal affairs.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, in a text message to Reuters, said Myanmar's acting permanent secretary of its foreign ministry, Malar Than Htike, was in Laos for Monday's talks.

The information was confirmed by two other diplomatic sources.

"The point is there's no changes in Asean policy," Retno said. "Myanmar shall not affect Asean decision making."

Retno last year led a behind-the-scenes effort to try to start dialogue between warring parties in Myanmar, where pro-democracy militias allied with a shadow government and ethnic minority armies have waged a rebellion against the junta.

The military government has refused to take part in dialogue with what it calls "terrorists".

Myanmar has been locked in crisis since the 2021 coup, with at least two million people displaced by fighting and human rights groups accusing the junta of excessive use of force and widespread atrocities against civilians, which it denies.

Asean special envoy meets Myanmar junta chief