Myanmar’s coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing arrived in Jakarta on Saturday for a summit of Southeast Asian leaders centred on the crisis in his country.
Southeast Asian leaders are expected to press for an end to violence by security forces that has left hundreds of protesters dead as well as the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees.
There is little hope for an immediate breakthrough in the two-hour gathering in Jakarta between the general and the six heads of state and three foreign ministers representing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). But his decision to face them offers a rare chance for the 10-nation bloc to directly deal with the general who ousted one of its leaders in a February 1 coup.
“The unfolding tragedy has serious consequences for Myanmar, ASEAN and the region,” Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on the eve of the summit.
One proposal, which has been discussed in preliminary meetings, is for Brunei Prime Minister Hassanal Bolkiah, the current ASEAN chair, to travel to Myanmar to meet the military leadership and Suu Kyi’s camp to encourage dialogue. He would be accompanied by ASEAN Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi – also from Brunei – if the junta agreed, a Southeast Asian diplomat said.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi of Indonesia expressed hopes that “we can reach an agreement on the next steps that can help the people of Myanmar get out of this delicate situation.”
Following the coup, ASEAN, through Brunei, issued a statement that did not expectedly condemn the power grab but urged “the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.” Amid Western pressure, however, the regional group has struggled to take a more forceful position on issues but has kept to its non-confrontational approach.
All ASEAN states agreed to meet Min Aung Hlaing but would not address him as Myanmar’s head of state in the summit, the Southeast Asian diplomat said. Critics have said ASEAN’s decision to meet him was unacceptable and amounted to legitimizing the overthrow and the deadly crackdown that followed. Daily shootings by police and soldiers have killed more than 700 protesters and bystanders, according to several independent tallies.
Aside from Myanmar, the regional bloc groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.