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Pan-Southeast Asian Agreement Aims to Stop Spillover of Myanmar Violence 

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Saturday's strongly worded call from a bloc of 10 Southeast Asian nations for an end to post-coup violence in Myanmar moves the region a step away from unrest infecting other countries and a step toward peacemaking, analysts say.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued a five-point consensus calling for “immediate cessation” of violence in Myanmar, “utmost restraint” by all actors there and the start of peace talks. An ASEAN envoy will help mediate dialogue in Myanmar, the consensus said, and the group will offer humanitarian aid. Myanmar is a group member.

"We, as an ASEAN family, had a close discussion on the recent developments in Myanmar and expressed our deep concern on the situation in the country, including reports of fatalities and escalation of violence,” the bloc’s chairman said in a statement after a daylong leadership meeting in Jakarta.

The other nine countries hope to stop Myanmar refugees from spilling across their borders and to make sure the strife doesn’t undermine ASEAN’s long-term role as a stabilizer in a politically and economically varied region of 655 million people, experts said.

“What happens in Myanmar now has significant impacts for the region as a whole, so that’s the interest of the other nine member states,” said Alistair Cook, a senior fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

April 2021 ASEAN meeting
Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meet in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 24, 2021, in the first coordinated international effort to ease the crisis in Myanmar. (Courtesy President Secretariat)

Sheltering refugees

Association members Indonesia and Bangladesh have absorbed Muslim refugees from Myanmar following previous strife with the government, but they lack capacity to shelter large new waves of people. Both recipient nations are largely Muslim.

Fellow bloc member Thailand, which has a land border with Myanmar, already has discovered people fleeing from Myanmar since its recent coup.

The February coup and arrest of de facto head of state Aung San Suu Kyi touched off protests that sparked massacres by the military in parts of the impoverished, 55 million-person country. Hundreds have been reported dead. Anti-coup demonstrators returned Friday to Yangon.

Myanmar had been under civilian rule since 2011, after decades of military control, until the coup. The army cried fraud when Suu Kyi’s political camp won elections in November, an apparent impetus for the coup.

The loss of a democracy within the Southeast Asian bloc concerns other countries, such as Indonesia, said Dinna Prapto Raharja, an associate international relations professor and a former Indonesian representative to the ASEAN Commission on Human Rights.

"This is because there is continued violence that already looks like a zero-sum game trend, where the winning of one group may lead to devastating loss for the other,” she said of Myanmar.

Activists ride their bicycles as they flash a three-finger salute of defiance during a rally called 'bike for Myanmar' against…
Activists ride their bicycles as they flash a three-finger salute of defiance during a rally called "Bike for Myanmar" against the military coup, in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 24, 2021.

Staying 'relevant'

Stopping violence keeps ASEAN “relevant,” she added. The association members are known for working together on trade and open borders. In the past, it has pushed for easing the South China Sea sovereignty dispute and backed Myanmar’s transition to democracy.

The ASEAN leadership meeting was the world’s first coordinated multicountry effort to stop violence in Myanmar, which also is known as Burma.

The chairman's statement was unusually strong for a group that normally shuns the national politics of individual members, which include two developing communist states and a wealthy monarchy in addition to emerging democracies.

Myanmar General Min Aung Hlaing, who led the military coup, reached Jakarta on Saturday for the event. It’s unclear how Myanmar will react long term to the statement, Cook said.

The junta won’t be happy, but ASEAN’s stance could help invigorate civilian efforts in the country, said Evan Laksamana, a senior researcher for the Center for Strategic and International Studies research group in Jakarta.

Some in Myanmar, who have clashed with the government, are looking to ASEAN for solutions.

“This summit is ASEAN’s last chance to prove that it can end a crisis in its own neighborhood,” said Tun Khin, president of the advocacy group Burmese Rohingya Organization UK. The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in western Myanmar, has long battled the government for its right to remain in the country, with a surge in violence in 2017.

Min Aung Hlaing is unlikely to listen to any ASEAN envoy, Tun Khin said.

“They appointed a special envoy they called in to stop violence, but so far we have not seen that he listened to anyone [in the] last three months or more,” he said.

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Myanmar’s Deposed Leader Aung San Suu Kyi Makes New Court Appearance

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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.

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Editorial: Myanmar People’s Disdain for ASEAN Borne Out by Pathetic ‘Consensus’

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In Jakarta, the bloc didn’t simply fail to condemn the junta and back the people—it bought the generals more time to move ahead with their corrupt and repressive agenda.Irrawaddy

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Myanmar Shadow Government Welcomes ASEAN Call to End Violence

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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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