ASEAN Leaders Meet, Call for Immediate Stop to Violence in Myanmar
2021-04-24 -- Southeast Asian leaders called for an "immediate cessation" to killings in Myanmar and the opening of ASEAN-brokered talks between its military regime and parallel civilian government, as they and the Burmese junta chief met in Jakarta for an emergency summit Saturday on that country's post-coup strife.
A statement from the chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the end of the one-day talks, which lasted about three hours, indicated ASEAN would appoint a special envoy to facilitate talks aimed at "a peaceful solution in the interests of the people." It said the regional bloc would also provide humanitarian assistance to Myanmar.
"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," said the chairman's statement issued by Brunei, the current holder of ASEAN's annual rotating chair.
In the bloc's pursuit "to strengthen our regional solidarity and resilience, we reiterated that the political stability in ASEAN Member States is essential to achieving a peaceful, stable and prosperous ASEAN Community," the statement also said.
It went on to say that the member-states reaffirmed a collective commitment to the principles enshrined in the 54-year-old bloc's charter, "including adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government, respect for fundamental freedoms, and the promotion and protection of human rights."
The "Five-Point Consensus" on Myanmar called for the "immediate cessation of violence" with all parties exercising "utmost restraint"; a constructive dialogue among all parties; the mediation of such talks by a special envoy of the ASEAN chair, with assistance from the bloc's secretary general; provisions of humanitarian assistance coordinated by ASEAN; and a visit to Myanmar by an ASEAN delegation, headed by the special envoy, to meet with all parties.
However, the five points did not include the release of political prisoners as the president of Indonesia â€“ the largest country in ASEAN â€“ and the prime minister of Malaysia had demanded in their speeches during Saturday's summit.
The statement, nonetheless, was the strongest collective one issued to date on the crisis in Myanmar, and a rare show of consensus that tested the 10-nation bloc's founding principle of non-interference in members-states' domestic affairs.
"Yes, it is true that we as ASEAN Member States uphold the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other ASEAN Member States, as embedded in the ASEAN Charter," Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said during his official remarks at the summit, according to a copy of his speech.
"However, that does not mean that we should ignore a serious situation that jeopardizes the peace, security, and stability of ASEAN and the wider region. This principle of non-interference is not for us to hide behind, it cannot be a reason for our inaction."
Although the chairman's statement said that the "ASEAN family" had "agreed" to the five points, it was not immediately known how Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the Burmese junta chief, whose forces have killed hundreds of civilian protesters since the Feb. 1 coup that overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government, responded.
Min Aung Hlaing did not give a formal statement, according to Agence France-Presse.
The meeting, which was the first high-level in-person meeting among ASEAN leaders since the coronavirus pandemic broke out early last year, was closed to the press because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
"It's beyond our expectation," Muhyiddin Yassin told reporters after the summit.
"We tried not to accuse his side too much because we don't care who's causing it," Reuters quoted Muhyiddin as saying. "We just stressed that the violence must stop. For him, it's the other side that's causing the problems. But he agreed that violence must stop."
Blunt words from Indonesia's leader
Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo was blunt in his remarks during the meeting, which he later conveyed during a post-summit news conference.
"The situation in Myanmar is something that is unacceptable and should not continue," he told reporters.
"Violence must be stopped and democracy, stability and peace in Myanmar must be restored immediately."
Jokowi said that at the meeting, Indonesia demanded Myanmar's junta make three commitments: end its use of force, start an inclusive dialogue among parties by releasing political detainees at once and open access to humanitarian aid, under the coordination by ASEAN's secretary general.
"Indonesia is committed to overseeing the continuation of this commitment so that the political crisis in Myanmar can be resolved immediately," Jokowi said.
In his speech, Prime Minister Muhyiddin echoed Jokowi's remarks.
"Apart from immediately stopping the violence, my second point is to call for a meaningful, inclusive political dialogue which can only take place with the prompt and unconditional release of political detainees," Muhyiddin said.
"This would be a good starting point and ease international pressure on Myanmar and ASEAN," he said.
Muhyiddin said the ASEAN chair and secretary general must be given access into Myanmar to meet with all parties.
"This is much needed for ASEAN to provide an honest and unbiased observation. If ASEAN is allowed access, this can demonstrate to the world that it is on track in helping Myanmar restore normalcy in the country," the Malaysian PM said.
The leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia had called for the emergency summit after the junta failed to heed demands to end the violence and release political detainees, including Aung San Suu Kyi.
Parallel government wants action
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, criticized ASEAN for failing to state plans to address more 3330 political prisoners, including senior political figures arrested after the coup, being held by the junta.
"Not only were the representatives of the Myanmar people not invited to the Jakarta meeting but they also got left out of the consensus that ASEAN is now patting itself on the back for reaching," he said.
"The lack of a clear timeline for action, and ASEAN's well known weakness in implementing the decisions and plans that it issues, are real concerns that no one should overlook," Robertson said in a statement from Bangkok.
Min Aung Hlaing arrived at Jakarta airport on a Myanmar Airways International flight in the early afternoon.
The general headed to the ASEAN Secretariat building, where the meeting was being held, after undergoing a COVID-19 test, the Indonesian president's office said.
Apart from the junta chief, the other ASEAN states were represented in person by their top leaders, except for the Philippines, Thailand and Laos, which all sent their foreign ministers.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte cited their preoccupation with worsening COVID-19 outbreaks at home as their reason for skipping the meeting.
Also on Saturday in Jakarta, Christine Schraner Burgener, the United Nations special envoy on Myanmar, met with Bui Thanh Son, the foreign minister of ASEAN member-state Vietnam, on the summit's side lines, Vietnamese media reported.
The U.N. envoy was going to the Indonesian capital to engage ASEAN leaders in discussions "focusing on a political solution" to the crisis in Myanmar, the world body had said earlier this week.
Human rights groups, meanwhile, had criticized ASEAN for allowing the Burmese junta chief to represent Myanmar at the summit and exclude officials from the newly formed parallel National Unity Government (NUG) from attending it.
In a statement posted late Saturday on Facebook, the NUG said it welcomed "the encouraging news that ASEAN leaders have reached consensus that the military violence in Myanmar must stop and political prisoners be released."
But it was not immediately clear whether the parallel civilian government was responding to the ASEAN chairman's statement or to the speech by Jokowi.
"We appreciate the strong words from President Widodo of Indonesia calling for the release of our heroes," Dr. Sasa, the union minister of international cooperation and spokesman for the NUG, said in the statement.
"We look forward to firm action by ASEAN to follow up its decisions and to restore democracy and freedom for our people and for the region."
HRW's Robertson stressed that "there is a strong need now to continue the pressure on the Myanmar military junta, expanding the targeted economic sanctions on top junta leaders and military owned companies, and going after the oil and gas revenue that continues to fill the junta's coffers."
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
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