Myanmar junta chief 'not opposed' to visit by ASEAN delegation to help resolve crisis, says PM Lee
SINGAPORE: Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing has said he is not opposed to a visit by a delegation from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to help resolve the crisis in the country.
This came out of a meeting among leaders of ASEAN member states in Jakarta on Saturday (Apr 24), said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
During the meeting, attended by General Min Aung Hlaing, member states outlined six outcomes they would like to see in Myanmar, including a visit by an ASEAN delegation facilitated by Myanmar authorities.
Other objectives include stopping the use of force against unarmed civilians, releasing all political detainees and allowing a humanitarian assistance effort led by ASEAN and comprising other parties.
"At the end of this, General Min Aung Hlaing responded," Mr Lee told reporters after the meeting.
"He said he heard us, he would take the points in which he considered helpful, that he was not opposed to ASEAN playing a constructive role, or an ASEAN delegation visit, or humanitarian assistance, and that they would move forward and engage with ASEAN in a constructive way."
Speaking to reporters, Mr Lee said he presumes ASEAN will now get together and work out a delegation to visit Myanmar, as well as start coordinating a humanitarian assistance effort for the country.
"I'm sure that in implementing this, there's a long way forward because there's one thing to say you'll cease violence and release political prisoners; it's another thing to get it done," he said.
"And to have an inclusive discussion in order to reach a political resolution is even harder still, but at least there is some steps forward which we can take."
Mr Lee said it is premature to say who from Singapore will be on the ASEAN delegation, as it may or may not comprise delegates from all ASEAN member states.
"But I would say overall it has been a productive meeting, and it has pointed the next steps forward for us," he added.
"If ASEAN had not met, or had not been able to come to a conclusion on the matter, that would have been very bad."
General Min Aung Hlaing's attendance at the meeting marked his first foreign trip since the Feb 1 coup that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The ensuing crackdown on protesters has left more than 700 people dead.
According to a United Nations envoy, about 250,000 people in Myanmar have been displaced, with the country's democratically elected top leaders in hiding or under house arrest.
Mr Lee said the ASEAN meeting was useful and allowed leaders to get together in one room to express their views freely.
"Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing gave us a briefing on the situation in Myanmar and the background: What led up to the events on Feb 1, what were the developments in the demonstrations and the upheavals since then, and what the path was which he saw for Myanmar," he said.
"After which, all of us as the rest of the leaders, we said our piece, one by one. And there was a quite high degree of coherence in the views between the different leaders."
SINGAPORE CALLS FOR RELEASE OF POLITICAL DETAINEES
Singapore has publicly reiterated its position on Myanmar several times.
In his intervention at the ASEAN meeting, Mr Lee again urged Myanmar's military authorities to stop the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians, and for military authorities to release all political detainees, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
He called these measures the "first step" to resume constructive dialogue among key stakeholders in Myanmar, with a view of reconciliation and return to stability.
READ: Singapore's Foreign Minister calls on Myanmar's military to stop using lethal force against civilians
Any solution that puts Myanmar back on the path of democratic transition must involve both the military and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), said Mr Lee.
He noted that the military has always been a "key institution" in Myanmar's politics, while the NLD "commands popular support".
"An ASEAN delegation should be allowed to visit Myanmar to help facilitate discussions," he said.
The junta had earlier in April refused to let UN special envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener visit the country, but Mr Lee expressed hope that this could happen.
"She has over the past three years demonstrated her commitment to reach out and listen to all parties, and to find a way forward," he added.
Mr Lee told reporters that the longer-term plan depends on Myanmar as this is a problem that has to be resolved by its own people.
While he acknowledged that ASEAN is closer to Myanmar than Western countries and the bloc can "appreciate the constraints and the difficulties better", Mr Lee said "it is not possible for a foreign party, however well-intentioned, to resolve the problem on their behalf".
After Myanmar's riots in 1989, the country did not return to a civilian government until two decades later, with "a lot of ups and downs" along the way and "many strong reactions, particularly from Western countries", Mr Lee said.
"I hope it doesn't take as long this time, but I think it is going to be a difficult journey for them because a political reconciliation or resolution which is necessary is a very tough one to make," he told reporters.
"And we wish them well and we will do our part where we can be helpful."
In his intervention, Mr Lee said ASEAN cannot be indifferent to what is happening in Myanmar.
"The international community is also watching what we do. ASEAN’s process and our engagements with external partners must continue," he said.
"Silence and inaction would undermine ASEAN’s centrality, credibility and relevance."