April 25, 2021
Activists display posters and defaced portraits of Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing during a rally against the military coup in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 24, 2021. (AP Photo)
YANGON, MYANMAR – Myanmar’s shadow government of ousted lawmakers has welcomed a call by Southeast Asian leaders for an end to “military violence” after their crisis talks in Jakarta with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.
The general attended a high-level summit Saturday with leaders from the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to discuss Myanmar’s mounting crisis.
Since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a Feb. 1 coup, Myanmar has been in an uproar with near-daily protests and a nationwide civil disobedience movement.
Security forces have deployed live ammunition to quell the uprising, killing more than 740 people in brutal crackdowns, according to local monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
The ASEAN meeting produced a consensus that there would be “an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar,” the bloc said Saturday.
It added that ASEAN will also have a special envoy to “facilitate mediation” between all parties, and this representative will be able to travel to Myanmar.
But while they “heard calls for the release of all political prisoners,” a commitment to free them was not included in the consensus statement.
A spokesperson from the shadow government — known as the National Unity Government (NUG) — on Saturday said ASEAN’s statement was “encouraging news.”
“We look forward to firm action by ASEAN to follow up its decisions and restore our democracy and freedom for our people and for the region,” said Dr Sasa, the NUG’s minister of international cooperation, who is currently in hiding with the rest of his fellow lawmakers.
The lawmakers — most of whom were part of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party — are wanted for high treason by the junta.
Overnight, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc will continue to call for the release of political prisoners.
‘Business as usual’
As Myanmar nears three months under the military regime, escalating violence by its security forces — especially in urban centers — has pushed protesters and prominent activists into hiding.
The junta has also throttled communications across the country, imposing a nightly internet shutdown for 70 consecutive days and restricting mobile data to a mere trickle.
By Saturday, the number of detainees climbed to 3,389, according to AAPP.
Independent news outlet The Irrawaddy confirmed Sunday that a former editor, Thu Thu Tha, was arrested in Thanlyin, a port city across the river from commercial hub Yangon.
“In spite of Min Aung Hlaing’s appearance in the ASEAN summit, it’s business as usual,” Irrawaddy’s founder Aung Zaw told AFP, adding that most of his staff are currently in hiding.
On Saturday, as the junta chief attended the meeting with ASEAN leaders and foreign ministers in Jakarta, soldiers and police fired on protesters near Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw.
One 50-year-old protester was held by the police and shot dead by a soldier; an eyewitness told AFP.
Despite the threat of violence, protesters across Myanmar continued to take to the streets Sunday — from the northern jade mining city of Hpakant to eastern Karenni state.
In central Myingyan — where brutal crackdowns have forced residents to hide in nearby villages — protesters smeared red paint on some of the city’s buildings to protest the bloodshed.
“Give power back to the people,” read graffiti on the city’s sidewalks.
‘Will the killing stop?’
State-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar on Sunday reported on Min Aung Hlaing’s visit to Jakarta and said he discussed the country’s “political changes.”
But it made no mention of ASEAN’s consensus for a halt to violence.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said it remains to be seen how effective the bloc’s engagement will be.
“The result of the ASEAN Summit will be found in Myanmar, not [in] a document,” Andrews tweeted Sunday.
“Will the killing stop? Will the terrorizing of neighborhoods end? Will the thousands abducted be released?”
The junta has justified its power seizure as a means to protect democracy, alleging electoral fraud in November elections which Suu Kyi’s party had won in a landslide.