BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – ASEAN leaders said they have agreed on a plan with the head of Myanmar’s army to end the violent crackdown in the country, where security forces have killed hundreds of protesters since a February 1 coup.

Leaders held a face-to-face summit in Jakarta on Saturday — their first in more than a year — in a concerted effort to ease the crisis in Myanmar.

Brunei, which holds the ASEAN chair this year, said a consensus was reached on five points: an immediate end to violence, acceptance of humanitarian aid, opening a dialogue between the military and civilian leaders, appointment of a special ASEAN envoy to facilitate the dialogue, and a visit by the envoy to Myanmar.

The statement made no mention of the release of political prisoners, including deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, although during the meeting several countries including Malaysia and Indonesia called for their unconditional release.

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah said ASEAN is ready to assist Myanmar, and that the Brunei government and ASEAN secretary-general will “mediate between all parties concerned”.

He added that regional stability is “vital for the greater peace and prosperity of the people in ASEAN”.

ASEAN leaders gathered at the he ASEAN Secretariat building in Jakarta on April 24, 2021 for emergency talks on Myanmar. Photo: Indonesian Presidential Palace

Pressure on ASEAN to deliver solution

It has been a while since ASEAN meetings involved such high stakes.

Usually averse to interfering in the domestic affairs of a member state, the 10-nation bloc took the first step towards tackling an impasse that threatens to unravel decades of regional progress.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the policy of non-interference should not lead to inaction if a domestic situation “jeopardises the peace, security, and stability of ASEAN and the wider region”.

“There is a tremendous expectation on the part of the international community on how ASEAN is addressing the Myanmar issue. The pressure is increasing,” Muhyiddin told reporters after the meeting, adding that Brunei and the ASEAN secretary-general should be allowed access to Myanmar to assess the situation on the ground.

Leaders who spoke after the meeting expressed cautious optimism that a way forward might be found, after nearly three months of turmoil in which 740 people have been killed by security forces and at least 3,000 imprisoned.

Singaporean PM Lee Hsien Loong said junta chief Min Aung Hlaing was not opposed to ASEAN playing a constructive role to ease the crisis, but warned that there was still a long way to go: “It is one thing to say you will cease violence and release political prisoners, it is another thing to get it done”.

Head of Myanmar’s military Min Aung Hlaing arrives in Jakarta for talks with ASEAN leaders. Photo: Indonesian Presidential Palace

Myanmar’s newly-formed shadow government, called the National Unity Government (NUG), welcomed the five-point consensus, saying it “looked forward to firm action by ASEAN to follow up on its decisions and to restore our democracy and freedom for our people.”

The NUG includes pro-democracy figures, remnants of Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted administration and representatives of armed ethnic groups. It says it is the legitimate authority in Myanmar but it was not invited to Saturday’s meeting.

The Jakarta talks were attended by leaders of Brunei, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia along with the foreign ministers of Laos, Thailand and the Philippines.