Observers: ASEAN Should Give Myanmar Junta Timeline for Acting on Consensus

Hadi Azmi and Ronna Nirmala
Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta
Observers: ASEAN Should Give Myanmar Junta Timeline for Acting on Consensus A woman prepares a placard out of crossed out portraits of Myanmar's junta chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, during a protest against the military coup in Myanmar, in Jakarta, April 24, 2021.
[Antara Foto via Reuters]

ASEAN needs to set a timeline for implementing actions announced at a summit of regional leaders on Myanmar last weekend, analysts said, even as another civilian was shot dead in that country Monday despite the meeting’s call for an immediate end to violence.

The Association of Southeast Nations will find it hard to ensure that the Myanmar military, which overthrew an elected government on Feb. 1, does not renege on junta chief Min Aung Hlaing’s word that he would end violence, among other actions, analysts said.

Even though the Burmese junta agreed to end the violence against pro-democracy protesters, there was no timetable mentioned at the summit to execute that promise, said Azmi Hassan, a Malaysian political analyst.

“No wonder the people in Myanmar, the NGOs and the activists fighting for the Myanmar people are upset with ASEAN in this case. There was no timeline, there was no attempt to put pressure on the junta leaders to follow up on their promise,” Hassan told BenarNews on Monday.

“I’m quite disappointed with the outcome since the opportunity was there. ASEAN had the opportunity to put forward a more concrete timeline, but again nothing came out of it. If there had been no meeting in Jakarta, it wouldn’t have made any difference.”

ASEAN must act swiftly and set a schedule for the Myanmar junta chief “to deliver on ending the violence, or stand ready to hold him accountable,” Malaysian lawmaker Charles Santiago said Monday.

“I fear that not giving a specific timeline on the Special Envoy is going to give a new lease for the general to do what he wants to do, and finish the job he started,” Santiago, chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), told a press conference, according to the group’s Twitter feed.

“How willing ASEAN is in responding seriously to the Myanmar crisis is dependent on them holding Min Aung Hlaing to account, ensuring he does not take them for a ride, and delivers on the agreed points.”

Since the coup nearly three months ago, the Burmese military and security forces have killed hundreds of pro-democracy protesters.

Even as Min Aung Hlaing was meeting with ASEAN leaders in Jakarta, soldiers and police fired on protesters near Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, killing a 50-year-old protestor, eyewitnesses told Agence France-Presse.

And on Monday, two days after the ASEAN said it had reached a consensus on ending the violence, Myanmar security forces shot dead a man in the city of Mandalay, Reuters said, citing national media.

Myanmar-owned and Myanmar-led’ dialogue

ASEAN’s “Five-Point Consensus” on Myanmar, which was issued by the bloc’s 2021 chairman, Brunei, called for an immediate cessation to violence, with all parties exercising “utmost restraint”; a constructive dialogue among all parties; and the mediation of such talks by a special ASEAN envoy.

Leaders also agreed on the provision of ASEAN-coordinated humanitarian assistance and a visit to Myanmar by an ASEAN delegation to meet with all parties.

“Timely and comprehensive implementation of ASEAN’s five points of consensus from that meeting will be important,” Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General, said during a daily press briefing Monday in New York.  

“We continue to urge the release of all detainees and for the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the spokesman added in confirming that Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy on Myanmar, held talks with ministers and other officials from ASEAN states in Jakarta on the sidelines of Saturday’s summit.

Haq said that the envoy met with the Burmese junta chief but declined to give more details about their discussion.  

The five-point consensus did not include the release of political prisoners as the president of Indonesia and prime minister of Malaysia had demanded in their speeches during Saturday’s three-hour summit.  

In fact, the proviso to free political prisoners was included in a draft consensus the day before the meeting but omitted from the final version of the chair’s statement, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources.

However, Indonesia Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Sunday that any constructive dialogue would have to involve those political prisoners held by the Myanmar military, The Jakarta Post reported.

“Ideally, if we have dialogue, it has to be inclusive dialogue that is Myanmar-owned and Myanmar-led,” she said in an interview.

The leaders met “as a family” and agreed to have this year’s ASEAN chair, Brunei, appoint a special envoy for Myanmar, who will be assisted by ASEAN Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi in mediating dialogue between all parties in Myanmar, Marsudi said.

As of Monday, the Myanmar military had detained 3,371 people, including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a Bangkok-based group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

‘Agonizingly slow pace’

It will be difficult to ensure that the Myanmar junta implemented what was agreed upon even in the consensus document, several analysts said.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged that it would be a challenge to implement any action plan agreed to by ASEAN leaders during the meeting and ensure that Myanmar follows through.

“I’m sure that in implementing this, there’s a long way forward because [it is] one thing to say you’ll cease violence and release political prisoners; it’s another thing to get it done,” Lee told reporters after he attended the summit, ChannelNews Asia reported.

“And to have an inclusive discussion in order to reach a political resolution is even harder still, but at least there is some steps forward which we can take.”

Similarly, Aaron Connelly, a research fellow the Singapore-based The International Institute for Strategic Studies, agreed that a resolution to the crisis in Myanmar would take time, but said the summit was a good first step.

“This will all happen at an agonizingly slow pace, particularly for the people of Myanmar, if it happens at all. But it would be a mistake to dismiss an opening like this out of hand, given limited other options.”

Yuyun Wahyuningrum, Indonesian representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, said he welcomed the results of the summit, but the hard work begins now.

“The next challenge is to ensure the compliance of ASEAN and Myanmar in respecting their commitment,” Yuyun told BenarNews.

‘Engage with NUG’

ASEAN also needs to meet at once with the National Unity Government (NUG), Myanmar’s recently launched parallel civilian government, Burmese rights activists and regional analysts said.

“ASEAN cannot paper over the fact that there is no agreement for the Myanmar junta to release the more than 3,300 political prisoners currently in detention in the country, including senior political figures like Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi who presumably would be involved in any negotiated solution to the crisis,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

”Not only were the representatives of the Myanmar people not invited to the Jakarta meeting but they also got left out of the consensus that ASEAN is now patting itself on the back for reaching.”

Involving the NUG is the only way to end the Myanmar crisis in a way that could benefit its people, said Hunter Marston a non-resident fellow at the Pacific Forum, a foreign policy research institute.

“If ASEAN wants a genuine resolution to the crisis, it needs to nominate and send a special envoy to engage NUG and insist on real dialogue moving ahead,” Marston said on Twitter.

Burmese pro-democracy activist Khin Ohmar said ASEAN had wasted an opportunity like the summit, because it did not reach out to key stakeholders like the parallel government.

“Without their [stakeholders’] agreement, there is no consensus. …This meeting could have been a historic moment, not only for Myanmar people, but for ASEAN people as well ... but it didn’t happen,” she said at the APHR press conference

“But there is still time to change the discourse.”


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