Last week, from Sept. 12 to 15, the ASEAN Air Chiefs Conference took place in Myanmar, which also headed the summit.
By a very narrow margin, the regional bloc appeared to have swayed slightly in favor of the military junta. Of the 10 nations making up the ASEAN, only four decided to skip
the conference: the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Meanwhile, air force chiefs from the five remaining countries – Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand – joined
Myanmar’s own representative in the military summit. Although the conference tried to steer away from political and politically charged topics, focusing instead on the environment, it was difficult not to see these countries’ attendance as lending credence and legitimacy to the junta and its brutality.
As the three-day conference was taking place, Myanmar’s military leaders launched 20 air strikes
across three regions. Their targets included a monastery and a village, and among their victims were an abbot, a lay brother, and several other civilians.
In a statement
, Yadanar Maung, spokesperson for activist group Justice for Myanmar, said that without a unified effort to boycott the conference, the ASEAN is “legitimizing and encouraging war criminals through defense and security cooperation, jeopardizing the lives of the Myanmarese people and exacerbating the crisis.”
Since Myanmar’s armed forces violently grabbed power
from the democratically elected government in February 2021, they have launched a violent and bloody campaign against critics, dissenters, and protesters. A scrappy shadow government, called the National Unity Government (NUG), has stood in staunch opposition to the junta. In May 2022, the NUG established
the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) and formally called on supporters to take up arms against the junta.
Conflicts between the PDF and the military leadership have since escalated. Air strikes seem to be the military’s preferred type of offensive, often dropping bombs on areas that they suspect are harboring rebels – without regard for civilian casualties. According to the NUG, the junta has launched more than 1,400 air strikes
since it assumed power over two years ago.