JAKARTA– Myanmar general Min Aung Hlaing, who led the military seizure that generated turmoil in his country, arrived in Jakarta on Saturday for a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders looking to pave the way to end violence in the impoverished country.
The meeting of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta is the first coordinated international effort to alleviate the crisis in Myanmar, an impoverished country bordering China, India and Thailand. Myanmar is part of the ten ASEAN countries.
With face-to-face participants despite the pandemic, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Friday that the summit reflected “deep concern about the situation in Myanmar and ASEAN’s determination to help Myanmar out of this delicate situation” .
“We hope that tomorrow’s (summit) will agree on measures that are good for the people of Myanmar,” she said.
It is unusual for the leader of a military government in Myanmar to participate in an ASEAN summit – the country has usually been represented by a lower-ranking official or a civilian. Min Aung Hlaing was seen disembarking after arriving on a special flight from Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar, according to images on the official video channel of Indonesia’s presidential palace.
Diplomats and government officials who requested anonymity said many ASEAN leaders want a commitment from Min Aung Hlaing to curb his security forces, which monitors say they have killed 745 people since a mass civil disobedience movement emerged to challenge his coup. February 1 against the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
“This is what Myanmar should avoid: geographic, political, social and national disintegration in ethnic parts at war,” said Philippine Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin on Twitter. “Myanmar on its own must find peace again.”
Min Aung Hlaing, on his first trip abroad since the coup, will speak at the summit late Saturday with each of the participants before more informal discussions begin, said three sources familiar with the proceedings.
The summit will be held in a “retreat” format, with leaders sitting in a circle and only one or two officials assisting each, said Usana Berananda, an official at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
PRESS FOR DIALOGUE
ASEAN officials and diplomats also worked on an initiative to send a humanitarian aid mission to Myanmar and to appoint an envoy to encourage dialogue between the board and the deposed legislators and armed ethnic groups that formed an opposition National Unity Government (NUG) .
The leaders of Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Brunei confirmed their presence, along with the chancellors of Laos, Thailand and the Philippines.
ASEAN has a policy of consensus in decision-making and non-interference in the affairs of its members, which include Myanmar.
Although this makes it difficult to deal with controversial issues, the body is seen by the United Nations, China and the United States as the best placed to deal directly with the junta.
The summit, convened by Indonesian President Joko Widodo last month, is a departure from the meetings of heavily choreographed leaders that are typical of ASEAN, said Evan Laksmana, a Jakarta-based security analyst.
“There is no precedent, especially due to the express intention to discuss the problems of a member state.”
A spokesman for the NUG, who did not attend the summit, told Reuters that the group had “maintained contact with ASEAN leaders”.
Dr. Sasa, an international NUG envoy, who only goes by one name, said ASEAN should insist that the military stop killing civilians, stop bombing villages in ethnic minority areas, free political prisoners and hand over power to the NUG.