Southeast Asian leaders demanded an immediate end to the killings and the release of political detainees in Myanmar during an emergency summit on Saturday with its chief general and coup leader who, according to the Malaysian Prime Minister, did not reject them categorically.
Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also told Gen. Min Aung Hlaing during the two-hour talks in Jakarta that a dialogue between the warring parties in Myanmar should immediately begin, with the help from ASEAN envoys.
“The situation in Myanmar is unacceptable and must not continue. The violence must end, democracy, stability and peace in Myanmar must be restored immediately, ”Indonesian President Joko Widodo said at the meeting. “The interests of the people of Myanmar must always come first.”
Daily shooting by police and soldiers since the February 1 coup has killed more than 700 mostly peaceful protesters and passers-by, according to several independent accounts.
The messages conveyed to Mr. Min Aung Hlaing were unusually brutal and could be seen as a violation of the basic tenet of the 10-nation Conservative bloc prohibiting member states from interfering in each other’s affairs. But Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said politics should not lead to inaction if a domestic situation “endangers the peace, security and stability of ASEAN and the wider region” and that the international community calls for resolute action.
“There is a huge expectation from the international community on how ASEAN is approaching the Myanmar issue. The pressure is increasing, ”Mr. Muhyiddin said. The current president of ASEAN, Prime Minister of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, and the secretary general of the bloc should be allowed access to Myanmar to meet with the warring parties, encourage dialogue and offer “an honest and impartial observation”, he said. he declared.
Such a political dialogue “can only take place with the prompt and unconditional release of political detainees,” said the Malaysian prime minister.
An official statement released by ASEAN through Brunei after the summit described the demands made by the six heads of state and three foreign ministers in more subtle ways. He called for “an immediate end to the violence in Myanmar” and urged all parties to “exercise the utmost restraint”, but omitted the demand expressed by Mr. Widodo and other leaders for the immediate release. political detainees. He said ASEAN would provide humanitarian assistance to Myanmar.
At a press conference on Saturday night, Muhyiddin said Min Aung Hlaing told ASEAN leaders he would find a way to resolve the issue and agreed that the violence must stop.
“Our proposals would be accepted, the general in his response did not reject [them]”Said Mr. Muhyiddin,” These are very encouraging progress. “
Asked about Mr. Min Aung Hlaing’s response to the call to stop the violence, Mr. Muhyiddin said ASEAN leaders tried not to blame his side too much because “ we don’t care who is the cause, we just stressed that the violence must stop. “
“For him, the other side is causing the problems,” Muhyiddin said. “If so, we hope he finds a way to stop it even before ASEAN officials visit Myanmar.”
Mr. Muhyiddin also denied claims that ASEAN has not done enough to resolve the crisis.
“We are concerned about what is happening and we have taken action and made decisions,” he said. “The best part is that a representative from Myanmar says he is ready to accept our representative there.”
It was the first time Mr. Min Aung Hlaing had left Myanmar since the coup, which was followed by the arrests of former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and many other political leaders.
Critics said ASEAN’s decision to meet with the coup leader was unacceptable and amounted to legitimizing the overthrow and the deadly crackdown that followed. ASEAN states agreed to meet with Min Aung Hlaing but did not treat him or treat him as Myanmar’s head of state at the summit, an Asian diplomat said. Southeast to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to discuss the matter publicly.
The divergent ties of many ASEAN members with China or the United States, along with a fundamental policy of non-interference in individual affairs and decision-making by consensus, hampered the bloc’s ability to cope quickly. to crises.
Amid Western pressure, however, the group struggled to take a more forceful stance on the issues, but retained their non-confrontational approach.
London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International urged Indonesia and other ASEAN states ahead of the summit to investigate Mr. Min Aung Hlaing into “credible allegations of responsibility for crimes against the humanity in Myanmar ”. As a state party to a United Nations convention against torture, Indonesia has a legal obligation to prosecute or extradite an alleged perpetrator to its territory, he said.
Indonesian police dispersed dozens of protesters opposed to the coup and the visit of the junta leader.
Leaders from Thailand and the Philippines have jumped to the top to deal with coronavirus outbreaks at home. Laos also canceled at the last minute. The face-to-face summit is the first organized by ASEAN leaders in over a year.
Besides Myanmar, the regional bloc is made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP journalists Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Kiko Rosario and Grant Peck in Bangkok, contributed to this report.