ASEAN ministers urge Myanmar to halt violence

Reuters

Posted at Jun 08 2021 12:26 AM

ASEAN ministers urge Myanmar to halt violence 1
Myanmar's junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who ousted the elected government in a coup on February 1, presides an army parade on Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2021. Reuters/Stringer/File

Southeast Asian foreign ministers urged Myanmar on Monday to halt violence, free prisoners and start its agreed dialogue during a meeting in China, while Singapore's top diplomat said the group was disappointed at its "very, very slow progress".

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi called for the immediate and transparent implementation of a five-point consensus agreed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in April, while her Singapore counterpart, Vivian Balakrishnan, said the bloc was united in stressing the need for action by Myanmar.

Myanmar's military rulers have shown little sign of heeding April's agreement among the 10 ASEAN countries, including Myanmar, which calls for an end to violence, political talks and the naming of a regional special envoy.

Myanmar has been in chaos since a Feb. 1 coup, with the junta struggling to impose control since ousting elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi, who goes on trial next week charged with a litany of offenses, is among more than 4,500 people detained since the coup. At least 849 people have been killed by security forces, a rights group says. The army disputes that figure.

The military has blamed the violence on supporters of the ousted government and says it took power because of a fraudulent November election won by Suu Kyi's party. Authorities at the time said the vote was fair.

The ASEAN ministers' comments follow a visit to Myanmar on Friday by two ASEAN envoys during which they urged the junta to free all political prisoners and discussed implementing the consensus.

The ASEAN envoys met junta leader Min Aung Hlaing in Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw as well as the junta's foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin, who also attended Monday's meeting in Chongqing, China.

The United Nations, Western countries and China have all backed ASEAN's mediating role, but some Western powers have also imposed increasing sanctions to target junta members and their economic interests.

"Indonesia is really hoping that the implementation of the 5 points of consensus need to be pushed after this meeting with, once again, a transparent process," Indonesia's Retno told a news conference on the sidelines of a meeting with the chair and secretary-general of ASEAN.

'PAINFULLY SLOW'

Balakrishnan spoke in strong terms at what he said was a lack of progress and said the appointment of a special envoy, which has yet to be agreed, "only makes sense if there is a genuine desire within Myanmar itself for genuine dialogue and negotiations and reconciliation".

Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said ASEAN must admit that progress on the consensus was "painfully slow".

"The int'l (international) community is awaiting ASEAN's further action," he said on Twitter.

The ASEAN statement dated June 5 said the objective of the visit was to discuss how Myanmar would reach "a peaceful solution in the interests of its people" by implementing the five points.

It said they had also "called for the release of all political prisoners, including women and children and foreigners" - an appeal that was not on the consensus but is supported by many ASEAN members.

Reuters was unable to reach a junta spokesman for comment on Monday.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar said the meeting covered "implementation of the recommendation of initial survey of ASEAN" and "terror acts" by junta opponents and the army's plan to hold elections.

Opponents of the junta have voiced frustration at the lack of tough action by ASEAN. China's ambassador met army chief Min Aung Hlaing on Saturday.

China's state-run Global Times newspaper quoted the junta leader as saying Myanmar was willing to coordinate implementation of the consensus.

It reported that the ambassador had said China was ready to support implementing the consensus.

Opponents of the junta have been wary of the role of China, which unlike Western countries has not been vocal in criticizing the coup.

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