Discord over Myanmar as ASEAN postpones year's first meeting

Unresolved differences about engagement with Myanmar's military rulers are causing discord among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), diplomats and government officials say, as a ministers' meeting set for this week was pushed back.

The friction follows a tumultuous final few months of 2021 after ASEAN took the unprecedented step of sidelining Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from its leaders' summit in the wake of a military coup and use of deadly force against protesters.

The thorny issue of Myanmar attending ASEAN events remains unresolved, said Indonesian foreign ministry official Abdul Kadir Jailani.

"It must be admitted that time is still needed to unite views," Jailani, the ministry's director-general for Asian, Pacific and African affairs, told reporters.

However, Cambodia's postponement of this week's opening meeting of its term as chairman of the regional grouping was understandable, he added, since the Omicron variant of coronavirus remains a threat.

Cambodia had cited travel difficulties that prevented the attendance of some foreign ministers when it postponed the meeting last week.

Cambodia has indicated it wants to engage the junta and had invited its foreign minister, retired colonel Wunna Maung Lwin, to the ASEAN opening meet, two diplomatic sources told Reuters.

In recent days, Malaysia's foreign minister, Saifuddin Abdullah, and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have opposed the idea of inviting back the junta, as it had made no progress on an agreed five-point ASEAN "consensus" on resolving the Myanmar crisis.