Brunei and Malaysia: ASEAN Leaders to Meet in Jakarta on Myanmar Crisis

Muzliza Mustafa and Ronna Nirmala
Kuala Lumpur and Indonesia
Brunei and Malaysia: ASEAN Leaders to Meet in Jakarta on Myanmar Crisis Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (second from left) and Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (left) meet with Brunei Sultan Hassan Hassanal Bolkiah (second from right) and Crown Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah in Bandar Seri Begawan, April 5, 2021.
[Photo from Facebook page of Hishammuddin Hussein]

Updated at 7:38 a.m. ET on 2021-04-06

After lengthy discussions, leaders of Southeast Asian nations are to meet in Jakarta to talk about the crisis in Myanmar, the governments of Brunei and Malaysia announced Monday but without specifying a date.

The top-level special meeting of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations will take place at ASEAN’s headquarters in the Indonesian capital, the leaders of Malaysia and Brunei agreed after a bilateral meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on Monday, days after China and Russia said it supported such a move.

“[B]oth leaders agreed for ASEAN leaders to meet to discuss the ongoing developments in Myanmar and tasked their respective ministers and senior officials to undertake necessary preparations for the meeting that will be held at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia,” said a joint statement by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Hassanal Bolkiah, the sultan of Brunei, which holds this year’s chairmanship of the regional bloc.

Referring to the situation in post-coup Myanmar, the two “urged all parties to refrain from instigating further violence, and for all sides to immediately exercise utmost restraint and flexibility.”

BenarNews contacted representatives at the ASEAN Secretariat, but they declined to comment. An Indonesia foreign ministry spokesman said the meeting “is still under discussion,” without confirming that it would take place. The spokesman referred further questions to Brunei.

On March 19, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Malaysia’s Muhyiddin called for an emergency meeting of ASEAN leaders to discuss the situation in Myanmar.

As of Monday, at least 570 people had been killed by security forces across Myanmar since the military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1, according to information posted online by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), an NGO.

The situation in that country has become even more violent and fluid since March 27, when the junta killed at least 114 protesters in the single deadliest day of post-coup blood-letting.

ASEAN has been roundly criticized for not reaching a consensus on how to deal with the junta in member-state Myanmar.

A special meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers on March 2 had failed to agree on a joint call for releasing Suu Kyi and other democratically elected Myanmar leaders detained by the military. Critics have said that ASEAN’s foundational principle of non-interference in members’ domestic affairs is an obstacle.

Last week, China and Russia backed calls for an ASEAN leaders’ emergency meeting on Myanmar. China has good-to-excellent relations with ASEAN members Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, in addition to Myanmar.

So far, Beijing has been muted in its response to the military coup in Myanmar and its violent aftermath. The Asian superpower has mostly called for stability, unlike Western nations which have condemned the toppling of an elected government and the ensuing violence.

“If this meeting fails to materialize, ASEAN as a community has little relevance. Let’s hope Myanmar will not be represented in the meeting by the military junta, because otherwise the summit will likely be deadlocked,” Dinna Prapto Raharja, an international relations analyst at Synergy Policies, a private think-tank in Jakarta, told BenarNews.

The special meeting of the region’s top diplomats last month included the Burmese military’s appointed foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, who “apprised the meeting of voting irregularities” in the November election, Reuters had reported, citing Myanmar state media.

The military had alleged voting fraud tied to the Nov. 8 general election, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won handily, according to polling authorities.

Before the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting, top Indonesian diplomat Retno Marsudi met Wunna Maung Lwin and Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai in Bangkok on Feb. 24.

Retno had said she told Wunna Maung Lwin that “the wishes of the Myanmar people must be heard,” as she called for “an inclusive democratic transition process.”

At the upcoming special meeting, Indonesia should emphasize the need for a ceasefire and an end to violence, Dinna said.

“After that, ASEAN needs to mediate talks between the Myanmar military and civilian leaders to allow them to form a government that is acceptable to all, considering Myanmar is ethnically and religiously diverse,” she said.

Thai-Myanmar border

Meanwhile, a joint statement from more than 200 individuals and 56 Thai rights organizations called on Thailand’s government to give sanctuary to displaced people, who have fled into Thailand in the wake of military strikes in neighboring Karen state.

Burmese air strikes on March 27 had targeted villages controlled by Karen National Union (KNU) rebels.

On Friday, Thailand said it was providing humanitarian assistance to more than 1,000 people who crossed the border from Myanmar into Thailand last week.

“The [Thai] state must not deny an asylum request. The security forces must let those asylum seekers who flee from violence and persecution … stay in Thailand in compliance with the humanitarian principles and human rights,” said the statement posted on the Facebook page of the Friends Without Borders Foundation, a Thai NGO.

“In the event of an influx of displaced persons from areas of persecution, Thailand should allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to such groups so the agency is able to screen people for protection.”

A Myanmar group that helps people from the state of Shan, which also borders Thailand, expressed grave concern on Friday about the safety of thousands of internally displaced people (IDP) housed in camps.

According to a statement from the Shan State Refugee Committee, the army had announced it would “start attacking border positions of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA),” the NGO said in a statement.

Like the KNU, RCSS/SSA is also an armed, ethnic insurgent movement.

Nontarat Phaicharoen contributed to this report from Bangkok.

CORRECTION: An earlier version had wrong information in the name of Brunei's sultan.


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