Nearly 80 days into the Myanmar military coup, and hundreds of deaths, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is due to hold an emergency meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia for member states to discuss the crisis.
The 1 February coup has quickly escalated, with the military violently cracking down on anti-coup protestors. Myanmar military, knowns as the Tatmadaw, detained Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other senior officials from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) just before the country’s new parliament was due to meet for its first session that day.
The Tatmadaw claimed that it made the move over alleged fraud in the November elections that led to NLD coming into power.
A state of emergency was then declared for a period of one year and all executive, legislative and judicial power is handed over to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. This was later extended to two years.
Chaos and bloodshed in Myanmar
Protests then broke out and quickly grew across the nation, starting in Mandalay, the second-biggest city in Myanmar. At this point, the Tatmadaw had filed charged against Aang Sang Suu Kyi and other NLD officials.
More people joined the protests as various multinational companies pull out from Myanmar, led by Japanese beverage group Kirin.
On 9 February, the police fired into the air and used water cannons to clear out protestors, continuing its crackdown as protests sweep across the nation. At this point, the US imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s acting president as well as military officers and generals involved in the coup. Other nations and international organisations followed suit, calling for an end to the crisis.
On 20 February, Myanmar security forces opened fire on protestors, killing two and injuring about 20. This led to several countries issuing stronger condemnation of the coup and the military’s use of force against civilians.
Protestors remained undeterred, however, as they continued to swell in numbers and demand for an end to the coup. The military, on the other hand, continued to respond violently, shooting into groups of protestors. At one point, 114 people were killed in one day, on 28 March. The next day, security forces also fired into mourners who gathered for the funeral of one of those killed the day before.
Throughout all this, the military continued its crackdown, detaining activists and protestors. The junta also announced just last week that dozens of people were added to the arrest warrant list including 260 celebrities, doctors, and ordinary citizens, AFP reported.
The coup and the military’s violent response to protests has triggered a wave of condemnation from various countries and international organisations.
As military response to anti-coup protesters turned bloody, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) released a second statement on 1 April strongly condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters, and the deaths of hundreds of civilians at the hands of military, including children.
The statement, drafted by the British and approved by all 15 council members following intense closed-door meetings, expressed a “deep concern at the rapidly deteriorating situation” in Myanmar. It also reiterated the UNSC’s earlier call for the military, commonly known as the Tatmadaw, to “exercise utmost restraint”.
Besides the UN, various nations have come out individually against the coup as well, condemning the use of violence and urging the Tatmadaw to return Myanmar to the path of democracy.
On 27 March, defense chiefs from a dozen countries on Sunday jointly condemned the bloodbath in Myanmar following the killing of at least 90 people, including several children, by security forces who opened fire on anti-coup protesters.
Earlier on 23 February, the G7 said in a statement that they “firmly condemn” the Tatmadaw’s violent response to the anti-coup protests sparked by the coup.
ASEAN response to the coup
In ASEAN, Indonesia appears to be leading regional efforts to broke a peaceful solution to the crisis following President Joko Widodo’s proposal.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi travelled to Bangkok to meet with her Myanmar counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin in efforts to facilitate an ASEAN-led solution to the crisis, according to reports on 24 February. While there, she also met with her Thai counterpart Don Pramudwinai.
On the same day, Marsudi said in a tweet that she has been holding calls with her ASEAN counterparts in the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Laos.
So far, all member states have come forward to support the ASEAN’s call for an end to the violence in Myanmar and for both side of the coup to come together to seek a peaceful solution.
A statement from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 11 March noted that it was “saddened” by the suffering and escalating violence.
It backed the statement made by current ASEAN chair Brunei for all sides to “exercise utmost restraint and flexibility”, and hoped for “peaceful solution”.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made similar statements around the same time, saying that it is “saddened by the ongoing escalation of violence that has caused loss of lives” and that it is “ready to join other ASEAN member states to assist Myanmar on her path to normalcy.”
This was echoed by the Philippines, Laos, and Vietnam.
Malaysia’s statement on the matter was a little stronger, as it also called for the unconditional release of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint who were detained on 1 Feb at the beginning of the coup.
The Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin also backed his Indonesian’s counterpart, President Joko Widodo’s call for an emergency ASEAN summit to address the situation in Myanmar.
Several weeks later on 17 April, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed a summit in Jakarta over Myanmar’s situation, and that it will be attended by Myanmar’s coup leader Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
Many activists and experts are concerned that the General’s attendance at the meeting next week could be seen as ASEAN legitimising the junta, which they have been pressing foreign leaders to avoid.
Burmese activist Wai Nu Nu took to twitter following the announcement to say: “#ASEAN do not legitimise the Myanmar Military junta as a government by inviting MAH to attend the summit. The Junta is illegitimate and illegal.”
The hashtag #ASEANrejectSAC started trending on Twitter in Myanmar.
ASEAN cannot discuss Myanmar situation without speaking with National Unity Government
In response to the announcement of the general’s attendance, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) called on ASEAN to also extend an invitation to Myanmar’s newly established National Unity Government (NUG)
NUG is a “shadow” government led by civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi under her capacity as state counsellor and President Win Myint, both of whom are still placed under house arrest by the military junta.
“ASEAN cannot adequately discuss the situation in Myanmar without hearing from and speaking to the National Unity Government. If ASEAN’s purpose really is to strengthen democracy, as stated by its Charter, they must give them a seat at the table. After all, they are the embodiment of democracy in Myanmar,” said Charles Santiago, chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and Malaysian MP.
He added, “The invitation to Min Aung Hlaing must be handled with extreme caution, and ASEAN must make it abundantly clear that he is not there as a representative of the Myanmar people, who totally reject his barbaric junta.”
APHR also urged that the UN Special Envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, should be invited as well to help with a coordinated human rights based response between ASEAN and the UN Security Council on the ongoing crisis.
The statement also noted that if ASEAN is to establish its own Special Envoy to Myanmar, that it should include representatives from at two or three member states “to ensure accountability and meaningful progress”.
APHR Board Member and former Thailand MP, Kasit Piromya said: “If ASEAN is to establish a Special Envoy on Myanmar, they must ensure it is not used as a way to stall pressure on the military and delay solutions. It must impose pre-conditions that include an immediate end to the violence and the release of all political prisoners.”
TOC has reached out to Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comments on the general’s attendance at the ASEAN meeting. We have yet to receive a response.
To date, reports have put the death toll of the coup in Myanmar at over 700 civilian lives, including children.