ASEAN leaders want end on Myanmar crisis, envoy to facilitate talks

Southeast Asian chiefs reached an agreement with Myanmar’s junta leader on Saturday to immediately end the ongoing crisis in the country, though without “a clear timeline for action.”

Brunei, chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said in a statement that the body discussed recent developments in Myanmar and expressed “deep concern” on the situation there.

The meeting led to a five-point consensus, which firstly calls for the “immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar,” telling all parties to “exercise utmost restraint.”

As part of the process, a “constructive” dialogue shall be held among all parties, facilitated by a special envoy. Leaders also agreed to provide humanitarian assistance there.

While ASEAN leaders “heard calls for the release of all political prisoners, including foreigners,” they did not call for the release of thousands of political prisoners, a global human rights group pointed out.

“ASEAN cannot paper over the fact that there is no agreement for the Myanmar junta to release the more than 3,330 political prisoners currently in detention in the country,” Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch, said in his statement, Sunday.

As of April 23, approximately 3,371 individuals were imprisoned and 745 were killed following the coup, based on a tally by Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Robertson also noted the lack of a clear timeline for action, mentioning the bloc’s “weakness in implementing the decisions and plans that it issues.”

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s shadow government welcomed the agreement but stressed that the junta must deliver on its promises, Reuters reported.

“We look forward to firm action by ASEAN to follow up its decisions and to restore our democracy,” said Dr. Sasa, spokesman for the National Unity Government, a body composed of pro-democracy figures and representatives of armed ethnic groups.

ASEAN held a meeting in Jakarta with Min Aung Hlaing, the military general responsible for the February 1 coup, which started with the arrest of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and triggered a bloody resistance there.

In response to the coup, both the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Burmese military officials and their corporations.

There is a strong need now to continue the pressure on the Myanmar military junta, expanding the targeted economic sanctions on top junta leaders and military-owned companies, [and] going after the oil and gas revenue that continues to fill the junta’s coffers,” Robertson said. 

ASEAN accepts UK partnership; calls for building public health center

The ASEAN chiefs signed off the United Kingdom’s application for dialogue partnership, as recommended by the bloc’s secretariat.

“We agreed to maintain ASEAN’s proactive and outward-looking approach in the conduct of ASEAN’s external relations based on shared interests, constructive engagements, and mutual benefits, which can contribute to ASEAN’s community building and development cooperation efforts,” Brunei said.

The leaders instructed their foreign ministers to complete the process before the next ASEAN Ministerial Meeting/Post Ministerial Conferences.

Aside from this, they also tasked their foreign ministers to held meetings with China and the United States “as soon as possible,” emphasizing the “importance of further strengthening ASEAN Centrality and unity in our engagement with ASEAN’s external partners.”

Regarding the persisting COVID-19 pandemic, ASEAN leaders stressed the need for the immediate establishment of the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, while they also reiterated its commitment to swiftly enforce the Implementation Plan of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF), the group’s exit strategy from the pandemic.

Photo grabbed from ASEAN website