JAKARTA (REUTERS) – South-east Asian leaders will try to forge a path to end violence and instability in Myanmar at a summit on Saturday (April 24) expected to include Min Aung Hlaing, the general in charge of the military takeover in February that sparked bloodshed and economic chaos.

The gathering of leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Jakarta is the first coordinated international effort to ease the crisis in Myanmar, an impoverished country that neighbours China, India and Thailand, and was ruled by the military from 1962-2011.

With participants attending in person despite the pandemic, Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi said on Friday that the summit reflected the “deep concern about the situation in Myanmar and Asean’s determination to help Myanmar get out of this delicate situation”.

“We hope that tomorrow’s (summit) will reach an agreement regarding steps that are good for the people of Myanmar,” she said.

Ms Marsudi’s Singaporen counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan, who is also in Jakarta, said Asean’s leaders “will discuss the pressing need to address the grave and deeply concerning situation in Myanmar”.

Diplomats and government officials who asked not to be named said many Asean leaders want a commitment from Min Aung Hlaing to restrain his security forces, who monitors say have killed 745 people since a mass civil disobedience movement emerged to challenge his Feb 1 coup against Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.

Min Aung Hlaing, on his first foreign trip since the coup, will address the summit along with each of the participants before more informal discussions begin, said three sources familiar with procedures.

Only a few officials will be present at the “intimate” meeting, one source said.

Push for dialogue

Asean officials and diplomats have also worked on an initiative to send a humanitarian aid mission to Myanmar and appoint an envoy to encourage dialogue between the junta and the ousted lawmakers and ethnic groups who have formed an opposition National Unity Government (NUG).

The leaders of Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Brunei, the chair, have confirmed their attendance, along with the foreign ministers of Thailand and the Philippines.

Myanmar’s nightly news bulletin on state television on Friday made no mention of the Asean meeting.

Demonstrators flash the three-finger salute as they march during a protest in Yangon, Myanmar, on April 23, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Demonstrators flash the three-finger salute as they march during a protest in Yangon, Myanmar, on April 23, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Asean has a policy of consensus decision-making and non-interference in the affairs of its members, which include Myanmar.

While that makes it difficult to tackle contentious issues, the body is seen by the United Nations, China and the United States as best placed to deal with the junta directly.

The summit, called for by Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo last month, is a departure from the tightly choreographed leaders’ meetings that are typical of Asean, said Evan Laksmana, a Jakarta-based security analyst.

“There is no precedent, especially given the expressed intent to discuss the problems of one member state.”

A spokesman for the NUG, which is not attending the summit, told Reuters the group had “been in contact with Asean leaders”.

Dr Sasa, an international envoy for the NUG, who goes by one name, said Asean should insist the military stops killing civilians, halts the bombing of villages in ethnic minority areas, releases political prisoners and hands power to the NUG.

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