ASEAN leaders tell Myanmar coup general to end killings

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In this photo released by Indonesian Presidential Palace, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, center, delivers his press statement as, from left to right, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto, and Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung listen, following ASEAN Leaders' Meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia, Saturday, April 24, 2021. 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, Indonesia's president said. (Muchlis Jr, Indonesian Presidential Palace via AP)

JAKARTA – Southeast Asian leaders demanded an immediate end to killings and the release of political detainees in Myanmar in an emergency summit Saturday with its top general and coup leader who, according to Malaysia's prime minister, did not reject them outright.

The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also told Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing during the two-hour talks in Jakarta that a dialogue between contending parties in Myanmar should immediately start, with the help of ASEAN envoys.

“The situation in Myanmar is unacceptable and should not continue. Violence must be stopped, democracy, stability and peace in Myanmar must be returned immediately,” Indonesian President Joko 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.

The messages conveyed to Min Aung Hlaing were unusually blunt and could be seen as a breach of the conservative 10-nation bloc’s bedrock principle forbidding member states from interfering in each other’s affairs. But Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that policy should not lead to inaction if a domestic situation “jeopardizes the peace, security, and stability of ASEAN and the wider region” and there is international clamor for resolute action.

“There is a tremendous expectation on the part of the international community on how ASEAN is addressing the Myanmar issue. The pressure is increasing,” Muhyiddin said. The current ASEAN chair, Brunei Prime Minister Hassanal Bolkiah, and the bloc’s secretary general should be allowed access to Myanmar to meet contending parties, encourage dialogue and come up with “an honest and unbiased observation,” he said.

Such a political dialogue “can only take place with the prompt and unconditional release of political detainees," the Malaysian premier said.

A formal statement issued by ASEAN through Brunei after the summit outlined the demands made by the six heads of state and three foreign ministers in more subtle terms. It asked for the “immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar” and urged all parties to “exercise utmost restraint,” but omitted the demand voiced by Widodo and other leaders for the immediate release of political detainees. It said ASEAN would provide humanitarian aid to Myanmar.