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Asean defense chiefs call for halt to Gaza fighting

JAKARTA, November 16 ------ Southeast Asian defense chiefs on Wednesday called for fighting in Gaza to stop immediately and for the world to collaborate on setting up humanitarian aid corridors there, but they struggled on how to address the prolonged civil strife in Myanmar.

The crisis in Myanmar was high on the agenda when defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) met in Indonesia's capital Jakarta. The 10-nation bloc includes Myanmar, but its defense minister was again barred from attending this week's meetings due to the military government's failure to comply with a five-point emergency plan drafted to ease the violence. "We are saddened with a deteriorating situation in Myanmar," Indonesia's Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto said in an opening speech. "Indonesia encourages other Asean member-states to support Myanmar to find a peaceful and durable solution to the current situation."

Asean has been trying to enforce the plan it forged with Myanmar's top general in 2021, which calls for an immediate end to the violence, the start of talks brokered by a special envoy among contending parties, and the delivery of aid to displaced people. But the junta has done little to enforce the plan. The defense ministers will meet with the bloc's eight dialogue partners on Thursday, with the territorial disputes over the South China Sea expected to be raised. Subianto also touched on Israel's war with Hamas in his speech. "Indonesia is deeply saddened by the deteriorating situation in Gaza, particularly the horrid humanitarian conditions," he said, adding that violence against civilians "must stop." "Conversely, efforts to achieve a ceasefire must continue, and the safe passage of humanitarian aid must be wide and accelerated," he said. Asean has not made a formal statement about the Israel-Hamas war, which is not surprising, given each bloc member sees the conflict differently. Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei — three Asean members with Muslim-majority populations where religion is significant in domestic politics — have long been strong supporters of the Palestinians' struggles. None of them have diplomatic relations with Israel.

In his speech, Malaysia's Defense Minister Mohammad Hasan condemned the bombings of civilians, homes and hospitals in Gaza and "the consequential massacre of innocent lives, children, women and men." Conversely, Singapore took a firm position against Hamas and strongly condemned the attacks the militant group launched inside Israel on October 7. The city-state has close defense relations with Israel, and its strong stance against Hamas leaves it out of step with its larger Muslim-majority neighbors. "The more important lesson for us is that peace can be stolen or lost very quickly," Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said. "While we are now a relative area of peace and security, we can lose it if we, as leaders in our nations, do not pay attention to the deteriorating situation in the Middle East and Asia."



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