The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has demanded a halt to the violence and killings gripping Myanmar stemming from a military coup staged in early February. The leaders of South East Asian countries met in a special summit with the coup leader to address turmoil ravaging the troubled country once known as Burma.
The regional bloc of 10 governments met April 24 in Jakarta, Indonesia in a three-hour closed session that ended with a “Five-Point Consensus” to reverse the deteriorating situation that poses a threat to regional stability.
“The situation in Myanmar is unacceptable and should not continue,” said President Joko Widodo of Indonesia in announcing the summit outcomes.
“Violence must be stopped, democracy, stability and peace in Myanmar must be returned immediately,” he said. “The interests of the people of Myanmar must always be the priority.”
The five points include an immediate cessation of violence and a constructive dialogue among all the parties. It also will name an ASEAN special envoy and delegation to facilitate mediation with all the parties and the regional bloc agreed to provide humanitarian assistance to the country.
The gathering drew contentious protests over coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing’s attendance. It was his first foreign trip since the Feb. 1 coup. ASEAN leaders said his participation was an effort to mitigate the repressive aftermath of the unconstitutional overthrow of Myanmar’s elected government.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told media outlets that overall the meeting felt productive. But committing to a solution is different from implementing a solution.
“I’m sure that in implementing this, there’s a long way forward because there’s one thing to say you’ll cease violence and release political prisoners; it’s another thing to get it done,” he said.
Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, tweeted the result of the ASEAN Summit will be found in Myanmar not a document.
“Will the killing stop? Will the terrorizing of neighborhoods end? Will the thousands abducted be released? Will impunity persist?” asked Mr. Andrews. He said “actual results” remain to be seen.
The people of Myanmar, human rights groups, civil service organizations and other concerned parties are seeking an end to clashes and brutal crackdowns on anti-coup resisters as well as added risks to already marginalized Muslim Rohingyas scattered in refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh.
“We, in the Nation of Islam, love Muslims wherever they are on the earth and we cry out for the whole of humanity,” said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the U.S.-based Nation of Islam. During April 13 remarks on an Islamic prayer line the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Minister Farrakhan called on the Muslim World to speak up more on Myanmar and other places where Muslims suffer.
Before the coup, General Hlaing headed the armed forces beginning in 2011 as the country transitioned to civilian rule following decades of military rule. He has been designated a sanctioned individual by the U.S. for his role in the violent suppression and alleged genocide against Muslim Rohingyas.
The campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity targeting Rohingyas displaced several hundred thousand people inside Myanmar and another 740,000 Rohingyas fled to neighboring Bangladesh.
The United Nations Security Council condemned the crisis and said the coup compounds ongoing ethnic tension.
The Security Council called for unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need, saying the crisis “has the potential to exacerbate existing challenges” in Rakhine and other regions.
According to UN figures, before the coup one million people needed support and protection across Myanmar. Humanitarian efforts, however, have been constrained by a difficult operating environment, disruptions to communication, transport and supply chains, and cash shortages, according to aid organizations.
The Security Council said recent developments pose “serious challenges” for the “voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable” return of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons.
In an email response to The Final Call, the International Crisis Group warned the “fast-deteriorating” situation represents a significant diplomatic and security challenge for the region, and an already dim prospect of resolving the Rohingya crisis has evaporated. Briefing the UN Security Council April 9, an expert with the International Crisis Group said Myanmar risks unraveling totally.
“To put it simply, Myanmar stands at the brink of state failure, of state collapse,” said Richard Horsey, senior advisor with the International Crisis Group. “This is not hyperbole or rhetoric. It is my sober assessment of a likely path forward,” he said.
The Myanmar people rejected the coup and responded with resistance, mass protests and civil service strikes. The military answered with arrests, brutal beatings, and killings. According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors arrests and deaths, since Feb. 1 over 700 people were killed in the crackdowns, and 3,300 others were imprisoned. The association’s website said these are verified numbers but actual figures are likely higher.
The vicious reaction of military forces to civil disobedience reflects repression historically exercised in various degrees, said Michael Isherwood, chair of the U.S. based-Burma Humanitarian Mission, which partners with Backpack Medics to bring local medical personnel to remote areas of Myanmar.
“The coup has basically put the army into a more active mode,” Mr. Isherwood told The Final Call. Over the years, the military regularly converged on specific ethnic areas, but now attacks more frequently with more lethal weapons.
Mr. Isherwood said more can be done by the international community.
The ASEAN measures also come as international pressure grows for action to end or resolve the crisis.
“Accountability is essential,” said Nadira Kourt, program manager with the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, a New York-based advocacy organization.
“The time for so-called quiet diplomacy has passed. Now is the time for bold diplomatic action,” she said.
Ms. Kourt called for the United Nation Security Council and ASEAN to implement practical measures and active stances against the military junta like a global arms embargo and sanctions against senior military officials and affiliated businesses.
The United States Treasury Department April 21 announced punitive economic sanctions on two state-owned business enterprises in Myanmar.
The Treasury Dept. said the Myanmar Timber Enterprise and Myanmar Pearl Enterprise are the primary entities for timber and pearl exports and provide significant economic benefit for the military regime.
However, some Myanmar watchers said U.S. sanctions may not deal a significant blow to the already sanctioned military known as the Tatmadaw. It has been targeted with sanctions for genocide and crimes against humanity against Muslim Rohingyas.
Mr. Isherwood agrees with the approach of America and other Western nations using sanctions.
“I would increase the intensity of sanctions and banning economic activity with any company relating to the regime, in which there are many,” stated Mr. Isherwood. “In Burma, the army runs many of the industries, so they can reap the profits,” he added.
Among the ASEAN demands are the release of all political prisoners detained since the coup. Senior members of the deposed ruling National League for Democracy, including President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, were placed in incommunicado detention.
The Nobel Peace Prize recipient and global face of Myanmar, Ms. Suu Kyi, holds the official title of state counsellor, but has been Myanmar’s de facto leader since 2016. Although her party has popular support, a law imbedded in the 2008 constitution legally bans her from becoming president. She was also silent in the face of attack on Rohingyas.
Meanwhile, a group of parliamentarians-elect formed a National Unity Government in exile representing the ousted elected government. Its aim is to ensure the “unconditional release” of those detained including President Myint and State Counsellor Suu Kyi. ASEAN did not invite the government in exile to the summit.
An unpopular coup and military junta that has failed to solidify power and control in the country is an explosive combination, said Mr. Horsey.
Over decades Myanmar has faced and weathered different challenges, including ongoing armed conflicts, banking and economic crises, refugee crises, anti-military protest movements and the brutal expulsion of the Rohingya in 2016-2017. He is less than optimistic the military can endure the current crisis.
“It is no longer clear that it will be able to do so. The glue that has long held the fractured country together is coming unstuck,” Mr. Horsey said.