South-east Asian leaders who met with the head of Myanmar’s military junta said they had reached a consensus on ending the crisis in the country – but the agreement did not include any explicit commitment to stop the killing of civilians or release political prisoners.
A statement released by the Association of South-east Asian Nations – whose meeting marked the first concerted international effort to find a resolution to the crisis – said it was agreed there should be constructive dialogue and immediate end to violence.
The group would also provide humanitarian assistance, and a special envoy would be appointed to meet with all concerned parties. The Malaysian prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, who attended the meeting, said the agreement was “beyond our expectation”.
No timeline was outlined for Asean’s plan, nor did the statement refer to the widespread killing of civilians by the military, or the need to release thousands of political prisoners.
On Saturday, as Min Aung Hlaing attended the meeting in Jakarta, soldiers and police fired on protesters near Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, according to reports by Agence France-Presse. One 50-year-old protester was held by the police and shot dead by a soldier, an eyewitness told the news agency.
Tom Andrews, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said he was anxious to work with Asean’s special envoy and monitor the results of the summit.
“The result of the Asean summit will be found in Myanmar, not a document,” he said. “Will the killing stop? Will the terrorising of neighbourhoods end? Will the thousands abducted be released? Will impunity persist?”
Charles Santiago, head of the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights group, also stressed the need to ensure the commitments were implemented urgently.
“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. We must not see a scenario where Min Aung Hlaing endlessly delays action, or controls who they talk to and deliver aid to,” said Santiago.
Asean’s decision to invite Min Aung Hlaing to its meeting in Jakarta attracted criticism from Burmese activists and rights experts, who said it risked legitimising the coup.
Since seizing power on 1 February the junta has killed 748 civilians, according to an advocacy group, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma. This includes dozens of children. At least 3,389 people are currently in detention or have been sentenced, including Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won the November election in a landslide victory.
“We tried not to accuse his side too much because we don’t care who’s causing it,” Muhyiddin said of the junta chief, according to reports by Reuters. “We just stressed that the violence must stop. For him, it’s the other side that’s causing the problems. But he agreed that violence must stop.”
Dr Sasa, spokesman for Myanmar’s national unity government, which was set up by pro-democracy politicians and includes elected officials who have been detained, said he welcomed the agreement, adding: “We look forward to firm action by Asean to follow up its decisions and to restore our democracy and freedom for our people and for the region.”
Military-controlled Myawaddy TV reported Min Aung Hlaing had attended the meeting, and said Myanmar would closely cooperate with Asean on various issues, including “the political transition in Myanmar, and the process that will be implemented in the future”.
The leaders of Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Brunei were present at the meeting, along with the foreign ministers of Laos, Thailand and the Philippines.