ASEAN leaders demand Myanmar coup leaders end killings


Southeast Asian leaders demanded an immediate end to killings and the release of political detainees in Myanmar in an emergency summit with its top general and coup leader Saturday in the Indonesian capital, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said.

The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also told Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing during the talks in Jakarta that a dialogue between contending parties in Myanmar should immediately start, Widodo said.

“The situation in Myanmar is unacceptable and should not continue. Violence must be stopped, democracy, stability and peace in Myanmar must be returned immediately,” Widodo said during the meeting. “The interests of the people of Myanmar must always be the priority.”

Daily shootings by police and soldiers since the Feb. 1 coup have killed more than 700 mostly peaceful protesters and bystanders, according to several independent tallies.

It was not immediately clear if and how Min Aung Hlaing responded to the blunt messages. It was the first time he traveled out of Myanmar since the coup, which was followed by the arrests of Aung San Suu Kyi and many other political leaders.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi expressed hopes on the eve of the summit that “we can reach an agreement on the next steps that can help the people of Myanmar get out of this delicate situation.”

Following the coup, ASEAN, through its current chair Brunei, issued a statement that did not expectedly condemn the power grab but urged “the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.” Amid Western pressure, however, the regional group has struggled to take a more forceful position on issues but has kept to its non-confrontational approach.

All ASEAN states agreed to meet Min Aung Hlaing but did not address him as Myanmar’s head of state in the summit. Critics have said ASEAN’s decision to meet him was unacceptable and amounted to legitimizing the overthrow and the deadly crackdown that followed.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International urged Indonesia and other ASEAN states to investigate Min Aung Hlaing over “credible allegations of responsibility for crimes against humanity in Myanmar.” As a state party to a U.N. convention against torture, Indonesia has a legal obligation to prosecute or extradite a suspected perpetrator on its territory, it said.

“The Myanmar crisis trigged by the military presents ASEAN with the biggest test in its history,” said Emerlynne Gil of the London-based rights group. “This is not an internal matter for Myanmar but a major human rights and humanitarian crisis which is impacting the entire region and beyond.”

Indonesian police dispersed dozens of protesters opposing the coup and the junta leader’s visit.

More than 4,300 police have fanned out across the Indonesian capital to secure the meetings, held under strict safeguards amid the pandemic. 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 back home. Laos, which has the least number of infections in the region but this week imposed a lockdown, also canceled 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 divergent ties of many of its members to either China or the United States, along with a bedrock policy of non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs and deciding by consensus, has hobbled the bloc’s ability to rapidly deal with crises.

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



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