11 July 2024

ASEAN leaders have agreed to meet and discuss the situation in Myanmar on April 24 at the grouping’s secretariat headquarters in Jakarta, according to a high-level source.

Myanmar military junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is expected to attend the meeting which many see as a test of ASEAN unity in dealing with the crisis.

After a week of disagreements over the meeting date, ASEAN chair Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei on Wednesday agreed to invite all the ASEAN leaders for a face-to-face meeting in Jakarta.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo had earlier called for a special summit to discuss the worsening situation in Myanmar which has seen hundreds of pro-democracy protesters killed since the military took over in a coup on February 1.

Senior ASEAN officials held a meeting last week to decide on the date and venue of the summit but were unable to reach an agreement. There were also suggestions that because of Covid-19 pandemic, the ASEAN leaders should meet virtually.

The source told Thai PBS World that Myanmar had initially insisted that the summit should be held in Brunei but eventually agreed to go to Jakarta which was favoured as the venue by most other member countries.  To avoid a quarantine, ASEAN leaders and their delegates will be required to have their Covid-19 vaccine shots ahead of their trips to Jakarta.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will have his second jab before leaving for the summit next weekend.  Prayut will be accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

The summit comes amid growing condemnations by international community of continued violent crackdowns by Myanmar security forces on protestors fighting against the military coup in various parts of Myanmar. As of yesterday, more than 800 persons had been killed, according to the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners.

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It is now over 2 months since Myanmar’s military coup on February 1st, ousting the elected civilian government, led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. Over 700 people have been killed, over 300,000 arrested and over 60 have been sentenced, with some facing the death penalty, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

Brunei, as chairman of ASEAN this year, issued a statement immediately after the coup stressing the importance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar. The statement also pointed out that political stability in ASEAN member countries is “essential to achieving a peaceful stable and prosperous ASEAN Community”.

On March 2, ASEAN foreign ministers held an informal meeting during which they called for an end to violence in Myanmar and a release all political detainees as well as a dialogue for reconciliation. Since then, the ASEAN member states have engaged in bilateral diplomacy with the military regime in Naypyidaw to help find a peaceful end to the crisis.

According to the source, the ASEAN leaders will first listen to a briefing on the latest situation in Myanmar by Min Aung Hlaing who will attend the summit. The ASEAN chair will respond to him and other ASEAN leaders will then join in the discussion.

At the moment, the source said that it is difficult to predict the outcome of the summit due to the unsettled situation on the ground. Reports of continuing  fighting between the Myanmar military and some of the armed ethnic groups, have heightened concerns among the ASEAN leaders that it could lead to an all-out civil war.

At the summit, the ASEAN leaders hope to further engage the military regime and obtain its commitment to ensure that all violent crackdowns stop and if possible, allow some forms of humanitarian assistance to reach the people of Myanmar.

To prepare for the summit, several think-tanks in ASEAN countries have held discussions to work on possible common grounds for the talks at the summit. Academics from Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand have expressed hope that at the upcoming summit, a concrete framework could be developed to further engage Myanmar to address key issues related to politics, the economy, a peace process with the ethnic groups and, most importantly, humanitarian aid.

Thailand has an important role to play as it has a common border stretching 2,401 kms with Myanmar. The prospect of further escalation of conflicts both inside Myanmar and with armed minorities has generated fears among the Thai security apparatus that there could be an influx of persons fleeing from violence in Myanmar into Thailand. “We must make sure that there is no further escalation of conflict in the coming days,” said the source.

Meanwhile, Christine Schraner Burgener, the special UN envoy on Myanmar who arrived in Bangkok last week, will meet with Thai officials later this week after completing the required seven-day quarantine.

By Thai PBS World