Southeast Asian leaders meet for Myanmar crisis talks

Southeast Asian leaders meet for Myanmar crisis talks

Indonesia ASEAN
A summit of ASEAN leaders in Jakarta on Apr 24, 2021. (Photo: AP images)

JAKARTA: Southeast Asian leaders held Myanmar crisis talks on Saturday (Apr 24) with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing who has become the focus of international outrage over a military coup and crackdown that has left more than 700 dead.

The meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta is the senior general's first foreign trip since security forces staged a coup that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in early February.

Mass protests by an angry population have been met by a brutal crackdown that has left blood on the streets.

An estimated 250,000 people have been displaced, according to a UN envoy, with Myanmar's democratically elected top leaders in hiding or under house arrest.

The senior general joined Indonesian President Joko Widodo and the Sultan of Brunei, the current chair of ASEAN, as well as leaders and foreign ministers from most of the 10-country group, which also includes Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Laos.

READ: Myanmar junta chief 'not opposed' to visit by ASEAN delegation to help resolve crisis, says PM Lee

Small protests outside the bloc's Jakarta headquarters were dispersed by security personnel.

A statement was expected after the closed-door meeting.

But the text of a speech delivered by Malaysian leader Muhyiddin Yassin called for an immediate end to violence against civilians, the release of political prisoners and for the ASEAN chair and secretary general to be granted "access into Myanmar, including to all the parties concerned".

"The deplorable situation in Myanmar must stop immediately," the draft read.

"Malaysia believes the killings and violence must end. All parties must urgently restraint from any provocations and actions that will perpetuate violence and unrest."

"MURDERER-IN-CHIEF"

In Myanmar, protesters continued to take to the streets Saturday, from northern Kachin state - where demonstrators wore blue shirts to symbolise detainees - to all across commercial hub Yangon.

Some more creative protests included Yangon demonstrators staging a so-called "funeral" for the senior general by smashing saffron-coloured clay pots on the ground - symbolic of cutting ties with the dead.

People in Myanmar continue to protest against the junta
People in Myanmar continue to protest against the junta AFP/STR

The general's involvement has angered activists, human rights groups and a shadow government of ousted Myanmar lawmakers, which was not invited to the talks.

"Meetings that contribute to a solution to the deepening crisis in Myanmar are welcome," the latter said in a statement.

"(But) meetings that exclude the people of Myanmar but include murderer-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing ... are unlikely to be helpful."

READ: Commentary: The ups and downs of ASEAN’s dealings with Myanmar

The lawmakers called on the junta to "stop murdering civilians", release more than 3,000 political prisoners and return power to the country's democratically elected government.

"The crisis initiated by a murderous and unrepentant Myanmar military has engulfed the country, and will cause severe aftershocks - humanitarian and more - for the entire region," rights group Amnesty International said ahead of the meeting.

There have also been calls for the regional bloc to expel Myanmar.

"BE REALISTIC"

Few analysts expected major breakthroughs from the meeting, saying instead it was a chance to bring Myanmar's military to the bargaining table and pave the way for a possible resolution.

"We have to be realistic here. I don't think the summit is going to bear out a full-blown plan on how to get Myanmar out of the conflict," said Mustafa Izzuddin, senior international affairs analyst at Solaris Strategies Singapore.

"But rather I think it will start the conversation and perhaps lay the parameters as to how a resolution could be found."

While the EU and Washington have ramped up sanctions against Myanmar to force the military's hand, it is unlikely ASEAN would scold the coup leaders or demand Aung San Suu Kyi's release, observers said.

"ASEAN wants to embrace (Myanmar) so it can create and safeguard peace in Southeast Asia," said Beginda Pakpahan, an international relations expert at the University of Indonesia.

"The second objective is to find a long-term solution through constructive engagement."

But the crisis engulfing Myanmar has delivered a big challenge to the future of the bloc and its consensus-driven approach.

"This summit is really a test of ASEAN's credibility not just within the region but also outside of the region," Izzuddin said.

"International eyes are on (it) to see whether the regional approach that ASEAN has taken to find a resolution in Myanmar is effective."

Source: AFP/nh

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