Surin Pitsuwan, one of the first rational voices to call for a more proactive Asean, now wants the group to intervene to help calm the violence in western Myanmar. It is a mark of the group's lack of confidence that it will, once again, refuse Mr Surin's good advice. The communal and religious riots in Rakhine state have killed dozens if not hundreds of people. But Myanmar is once again invoking the tired, old rule of non-interference to justify terrible violations of human rights and decency.
It is ironic that Mr Surin is the leading voice in the call for help for Myanmar. As foreign minister of Thailand in the 1990s, he was a lone voice of sanity in the region. That was when he broke the non-interference rule to recommend that Asean move to help Myanmar out of its long, vicious military dictatorship. The Myanmar generals opted for another 20 years of brutal, ruinous rule. Asean was forced to pretend for many years that Myanmar was a serious and productive member of the regional group.
Now Mr Surin is the secretary-general of Asean. He told this newspaper last weekend that action is necessary in Myanmar. Violent clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities have left at least 159 people dead. There are scores of villages torched to the ground, tens of thousands of refugees and shattered lives.
Myanmar's response to Mr Surin's offer to help was a predictable slapdown. In August, the government of President Thein Sein told Asean to butt out, because ''the situation is under control''. That, of course, was the opposite of the truth. It emerged last week that new communal riots have killed dozens and created yet another 22,000 refugees.
Mr Surin, who is from the Thai South and sensitive to such problems, said he fears the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar are at risk of being radicalised. If that occurs, the entire situation would nosedive _ although it is unpredictable just how. The west of Myanmar could mirror the deep South of Thailand with murderous groups killing and bombing. Or, even worse, international Islamists in Bangladesh could convince radical Rohingya to join terrorist groups seeking wider violence.
It is extremely unwise of Myanmar to exclude proffered help from its own, regional allies. For now, the situation in Rakhine state is explosive. Myanmar has ruled that the Rohingya are not citizens. But that hardly justifies the routine denial of human rights and excuses for murders, arson and violence against them. Yet Myanmar leaders, even including the nation's leading democrat Aung San Suu Kyi, appear to disagree.
The violence against the Rohingya, as UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said directly to Myanmar authorities, threatens all the progress the country has made. It is impossible to believe in the good intentions of a government that uses threats and defends vigilante attacks against people on its territory _ citizens or not. Myanmar is putting is own, remarkable democratic advances at risk through its actions towards the Rohingya. Mr Surin is a refreshing and helpful voice in this atmosphere. Myanmar should listen. And the foreign ministers and governments of Asean should carefully heed the Asean chief's words.