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ASEAN calls for end to Myanmar killings

Nine Southeast Asian nations demanded that the military in Myanmar — the tenth ASEAN member — should immediately cease all violence and killings.

ASEAN leaders meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia
ASEAN leaders meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia (AN/Presidential Secretariat)

Nine Southeast Asian countries demanded on Saturday that military coup leaders in Myanmar — the tenth member of their prominent intergovernmental organization — should immediately cease all violence and killings.

Leaders from the nine countries called a face-to-face emergency summit, their first non-virtual meeting in more than a year, to speak with Myanmar's coup leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, headquarters to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

Along with Myanmar, the organization includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said the leaders told Min Aung Hlaing that the military must hold talks with its opposition to bring about a peaceful resolution.

“The first requested commitment is for the Myanmar military to stop the use of violence and that all parties there at the same time must refrain so that tensions can be reduced,” Widodo said of the more than 700 people killed by soldiers and police since the military coup began on February 1.

“The violence must be stopped and democracy, stability and peace in Myanmar must be restored," he said, also urging the military to allow a special envoy to be allowed into Myanmar to facilitate talks among opposing sides. A council of ousted Myanmar lawmakers announced last week they formed a "National Unity Government" to restore democracy.

After the summit chaired by Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, ASEAN issued a statement showing consensus on five points.

It called for the "immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties shall exercise utmost restraint"; holding "constructive dialogue among all parties" seeking a peaceful solution; mediation by an ASEAN-appointed special envoy; acceptance of ASEAN-coordinated humanitarian aid; and permission for an ASEAN special envoy and delegation to visit Myanmar.

"We, as an ASEAN family, had a close discussion on the recent developments in Myanmar and expressed our deep concern on the situation in the country, including reports of fatalities and escalation of violence," the statement said.

"We also heard calls for the release of all political prisoners including foreigners," it said. "We also underscored the importance of Myanmar’s continued efforts in addressing the situation in the Rakhine State, including commencing the repatriation process, in a voluntary, safe and dignified manner in accordance with its bilateral agreements with Bangladesh. In this regard, we looked forward to the resumption of repatriation of verified displaced persons as soon as possible."

A tougher statement

A U.N. human rights investigator’s warned the world a year ago that better protection is needed for ethnic and religious minorities against “ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity” by Myanmar’s armed forces, the Tatmadaw, in Rakhine and Chin states.

An opinion from the United Nations’ top court, the International Court of Justice, instructed Myanmar that it must “take all measures within its power” to prevent genocide.

In September 2019, a special U.N. fact-finding mission wrapped up two years of investigation by urging the international community to hold Myanmar’s military responsible for “genocidal acts” against the Muslim Rohingya minority.

The mission said 600,000 Rohingyas remaining inside Myanmar faced systematic persecution and lived under the threat of genocide, while Myanmar’s 2017 “clearance operations” killed thousands and caused more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong also called for the military to end the house arrest of Myanmar’s President U Win Myint and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been Myanmar's de facto civilian leader.

In early morning raids nearly three months ago, the military detained Suu Kyi and other leaders of her National League for Democracy party just as parliament was set to reconvene.

Soon afterwards the military-run Myawaddy TV announced Min Aung Hlaing will run the country for one year due to “election fraud” in November elections that gave Suu Kyi’s party most of parliament’s contested seats.

It cited a new constitutional provision that lets the military seize power in cases of national emergency. In December 2019, Suu Kyi, once an icon of democracy and human rights, stood before the ICJ to deny that the Tatmadaw committed genocide against the Rohingyas.

But in the months since the coup, ASEAN leaders have escalated their support for Suu Kyi's government despite outstanding concerns over the Rohingyas. The leaders had issued a considerably more restrained statement just after the military took control of Myanmar, where one-in-four people live below the national poverty line.

Its previous statement simply recommended the restoration of “political stability” in Myanmar and encouraged "the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar."

The nation was previously ruled by a military junta from 1962 to 2011, when military leaders changed the isolated former British colony's name from Burma to Myanmar — and it came to be considered a pariah state.

Suu Kyi rose to power and endured 15 years of house arrest as leader of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement. Her father, the late General Aung San, was assasinated when she was two years old, after he united the nation and signed an independence agreement with the United Kingdom in January 1947.