Myanmar’s junta leaders meet ASEAN leaders on their first trip abroad since the coup

Myanmar’s military must restore democracy and stop committing violence against civilians, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said after crisis talks with coup leader Min Aung Hlaing and Southeast Asian leaders on Saturday.

“The first commitment is for the military in Myanmar to stop the use of force and for all parties to abstain at the same time to reduce tensions,” Widodo said after a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“Violence must be stopped and democracy, stability and peace in Myanmar must be restored.”

There was some hope for an immediate breakthrough in the two-hour meeting in Jakarta between Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and the six heads of state and three foreign ministers representing ASEAN. But his decision to face them offers a rare chance for the 10-nation bloc to directly deal with the general who fired one of its leaders in a February 1 coup.

One proposal, which has been discussed at preliminary meetings, is for Brunei’s Prime Minister Hassanal Bolkiah, the current ASEAN chairman, to travel to Myanmar to meet with the military leadership and Suu Kyi’s camp to encourage dialogue. He would be accompanied by ASEAN general secretary Lim Jock Hoi – also from Brunei – if the junta agreed, a Southeast Asian diplomat told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Another diplomat said humanitarian aid could be offered to Myanmar if conditions improved. The diplomat also spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to discuss such plans in public.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi of Indonesia expressed hope that “we can reach an agreement on the next step that can help the people of Myanmar get out of this sensitive situation.”

After the coup, ASEAN, through Brunei, issued a statement that did not unexpectedly condemn the rise to power but called for “dialogue, reconciliation and a return to normalcy in accordance with the people of Myanmar.” In the midst of Western pressure, however, the regional group has struggled to take a more forceful stand on issues but has maintained its non-confrontational stance.

Accused of legitimizing coup

All ASEAN states agreed to meet with Min Aung Hlaing but would not speak to him as Myanmar’s head of state at the summit, the Southeast Asian diplomat said. Critics have said that ASEAN’s decision to meet him was unacceptable and legitimized the overthrow and the deadly aftermath that followed. Daily shootings of police and soldiers have killed more than 700 protesters and spectators, according to several independent speakers.

Amnesty International called on Indonesia and other ASEAN states to investigate Min Aung Hlaing on “credible allegations of responsibility for crimes against humanity in Myanmar.” As a state party to a UN Convention against Torture, Indonesia has a legal obligation to prosecute or extradite a suspected perpetrator on its territory, it said.

“The military crisis triggered by the military gives ASEAN the biggest test in its history,” said Emerlynne Gil of the London-based rights group. “This is not an internal issue for Myanmar but a major human rights and humanitarian crisis affecting the whole region and beyond.”

The police dispersed dozens of protesters who opposed the coup and the junta leader’s visit.

More than 4,300 police have stormed the Indonesian capital to secure the meetings, which are held under strict pandemic protection measures. Indonesia has reported the highest number of Covid-19 infections and deaths in Southeast Asia.

The leaders of Thailand and the Philippines skipped the summit to deal with coronavirus outbreaks at home. Laos, which has the least number of infections in the region but this week introduced a lockdown, was also suspended at the last minute. The face-to-face summit is the first by ASEAN leaders in more than a year.

ASEAN’s diversity, including the deviant ties that many of its members have with either China or the United States, along with a basic policy of not interfering in each other’s domestic affairs and deciding by consensus, has hindered the bloc’s ability to deal quickly with crises.

Apart from Myanmar, the regional groups have Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

( Jowharwith AFP, AP)

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