Myanmar General Min Aung Hlaing, who led the military takeover that sparked turmoil in his country, arrived in Jakarta on Saturday for a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders seeking try to forge a path to end the violence in the impoverished nation.
The gathering of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta is the first coordinated international effort to ease the crisis in Myanmar, an impoverished country that neighbors China, India and Thailand. Myanmar is part of the 10-nation ASEAN.
With participants attending in person despite the pandemic, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Friday that the summit reflected the "deep concern about the situation in Myanmar and ASEAN's determination to help Myanmar get out of this delicate situation."
"We hope that tomorrow's (summit) will reach an agreement regarding steps that are good for the people of Myanmar," she said.
It's unusual for the leader of a military government in Myanmar to attend an ASEAN summit — usually the country has been represented by a lower-ranked officer or a civilian. Min Aung Hlaing was seen disembarking after arriving on a special flight from Naypyitaw, the Myanmar capital, according to footage on the official video channel of Indonesia's presidential palace.
Diplomats and government officials who asked not to be named said many ASEAN leaders want a commitment from Min Aung Hlaing to restrain his security forces, who monitors say have killed 745 people since a mass civil disobedience movement emerged to challenge his Feb. 1 coup against the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
"This is what Myanmar must avoid: geographical, political, social and national disintegration into warring ethnic parts," said Philippines Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin on Twitter. "Myanmar on its own must find peace again."
Min Aung Hlaing, on his first foreign trip since the coup, will address the summit later on Saturday along with each of the participants before more informal discussions begin, said three sources familiar with procedures.
The summit will be held in a "retreat" format, with leaders sitting in a circle and only one or two officials assisting each one, said Usana Berananda, a Thai foreign ministry official.
Push for dialogue
ASEAN officials and diplomats have also worked on an initiative to send a humanitarian aid mission to Myanmar and appoint an envoy to encourage dialog between the junta and the ousted lawmakers and armed ethnic groups who have formed an opposition National Unity Government (NUG).
The leaders of Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Brunei have confirmed their attendance, along with the foreign ministers of Laos, Thailand and the Philippines.
ASEAN has a policy of consensus decision-making and non-interference in the affairs of its members, which include Myanmar.
While that makes it difficult to tackle contentious issues, the body is seen by the United Nations, China and the United States as best placed to deal with the junta directly.
The summit, called for by Indonesia's president Joko Widodo last month, is a departure from the tightly choreographed leaders' meetings that are typical of ASEAN, said Evan Laksmana, a Jakarta-based security analyst.
"There is no precedent, especially given the expressed intent to discuss the problems of one member state."
A spokesperson for the NUG, which is not attending the summit, told Reuters the group had "been in contact with ASEAN leaders."
Dr. Sasa, an international envoy for the NUG, who goes by one name, said ASEAN should insist the military stops killing civilians, halts the bombing of villages in ethnic minority areas, releases political prisoners and hands power to the NUG.
Myanmar’s Deposed Leader Aung San Suu Kyi Makes New Court Appearance
Myanmar’s deposed de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi made another court appearance Monday as the country’s regional neighbors increase pressure on the military junta to bring an end to the deadly chaos.
Lawyers for the 75-year-old Suu Kyi also appeared via video conference in a courtroom in the capital Naypyitaw for a procedural hearing.
Suu Kyi has been detained since the February 1 coup and is facing six criminal charges, the most serious of them a charge of breaking the country’s colonial-era secrets law that could put her in prison for 14 years if convicted.
Her lawyers say on Monday she again demanded a face-to-face meeting with her legal team, which has not occurred during her detention.
Two other leaders from the overthrown civilian government, President U Win Myint and Dr. Myo Aung, Naypitaw Council Chairman, also appeared before the court via video conference. The next hearing for all three will be held on May 10.
The military cited widespread fraud in last November’s general election — which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won in a landslide — as its reason for overthrowing Suu Kyi’s government.
The coup has sparked daily mass demonstrations across Myanmar demanding the return of Suu Kyi and her elected government to power.
The junta has responded with an increasingly violent and deadly crackdown against the protesters. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a nongovernmental monitoring organization, estimates that more than 700 people have been killed since the coup.
Leaders of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc, of which Myanmar is a member, held an emergency summit Saturday in Jakarta with Senior General Min Aung Hliang, the junta’s leader. The group issued a rare statement demanding the junta end the violence, begin a dialogue with all relevant parties and allow entry of a special ASEAN envoy.
But it stopped short of a demand for the immediate release of all political prisoners.
Editorial: Myanmar People’s Disdain for ASEAN Borne Out by Pathetic ‘Consensus’
Myanmar Shadow Government Welcomes ASEAN Call to End Violence
Myanmar’s shadow government of ousted lawmakers has welcomed a call by Southeast Asian leaders for an end to “military violence” after their crisis talks in Jakarta with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.
The general attended a high-level summit Saturday with leaders from the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to discuss Myanmar’s mounting crisis.
Since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a Feb. 1 coup, Myanmar has been in an uproar with near-daily protests and a nationwide civil disobedience movement.
Security forces have deployed live ammunition to quell the uprising, killing more than 740 people in brutal crackdowns, according to local monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
The ASEAN meeting produced a consensus that there would be “an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar,” the bloc said Saturday.
It added that ASEAN will also have a special envoy to “facilitate mediation” between all parties, and this representative will be able to travel to Myanmar.
But while they “heard calls for the release of all political prisoners,” a commitment to free them was not included in the consensus statement.
A spokesperson from the shadow government — known as the National Unity Government (NUG) — on Saturday said ASEAN’s statement was “encouraging news.”
“We look forward to firm action by ASEAN to follow up its decisions and restore our democracy and freedom for our people and for the region,” said Dr Sasa, the NUG’s minister of international cooperation, who is currently in hiding with the rest of his fellow lawmakers.
The lawmakers — most of whom were part of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party — are wanted for high treason by the junta.
Overnight, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc will continue to call for the release of political prisoners.
‘Business as usual’
As Myanmar nears three months under the military regime, escalating violence by its security forces — especially in urban centers — has pushed protesters and prominent activists into hiding.
The junta has also throttled communications across the country, imposing a nightly internet shutdown for 70 consecutive days and restricting mobile data to a mere trickle.
By Saturday, the number of detainees climbed to 3,389, according to AAPP.
Independent news outlet The Irrawaddy confirmed Sunday that a former editor, Thu Thu Tha, was arrested in Thanlyin, a port city across the river from commercial hub Yangon.
“In spite of Min Aung Hlaing’s appearance in the ASEAN summit, it’s business as usual,” Irrawaddy’s founder Aung Zaw told AFP, adding that most of his staff are currently in hiding.
On Saturday, as the junta chief attended the meeting with ASEAN leaders and foreign ministers in Jakarta, soldiers and police fired on protesters near Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw.
One 50-year-old protester was held by the police and shot dead by a soldier; an eyewitness told AFP.
Despite the threat of violence, protesters across Myanmar continued to take to the streets Sunday — from the northern jade mining city of Hpakant to eastern Karenni state.
In central Myingyan — where brutal crackdowns have forced residents to hide in nearby villages — protesters smeared red paint on some of the city’s buildings to protest the bloodshed.
“Give power back to the people,” read graffiti on the city’s sidewalks.
‘Will the killing stop?’
State-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar on Sunday reported on Min Aung Hlaing’s visit to Jakarta and said he discussed the country’s “political changes.”
But it made no mention of ASEAN’s consensus for a halt to violence.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said it remains to be seen how effective the bloc’s engagement will be.
“The result of the ASEAN Summit will be found in Myanmar, not [in] a document,” Andrews tweeted Sunday.
“Will the killing stop? Will the terrorizing of neighborhoods end? Will the thousands abducted be released?”
The junta has justified its power seizure as a means to protect democracy, alleging electoral fraud in November elections which Suu Kyi’s party had won in a landslide.
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