Southeast Asian leaders will hold Myanmar crisis talks Saturday with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing who has become the focus of international outrage over a military coup and crackdown that has left more than 700 dead.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Jakarta is the senior general’s first foreign trip since security forces staged a coup that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in early February.
Mass protests by an angry population have been met by a brutal crackdown that has left blood on the streets. An estimated 250,000 people have been displaced, according to a UN envoy, with Myanmar’s democratically elected top leaders in hiding or under house arrest.
An Indonesian government video showed Min Aung Hlaing, dressed in a dark suit, stepping off a Myanmar Airways International plane after it landed in the capital Saturday.
He will join Indonesian President Joko Widodo and the Sultan of Brunei, the current chair of ASEAN, as well as leaders and foreign ministers from most of the 10-country group, which also includes Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Laos.
Dozens gathered outside the ASEAN headquarters, which was ringed by heavy security, calling for democracy to be restored. A diplomatic source told AFP that ASEAN was likely to call on the junta to end violence against civilians and to allow a special envoy to meet with the detained Suu Kyi, but would stop short of calling for her release.
The meeting is closed to media. – ‘Murderer-in-chief’ –
The general’s involvement has angered activists, human rights groups and a shadow government of ousted Myanmar lawmakers, which was not invited to the talks.
“Meetings that contribute to a solution to the deepening crisis in Myanmar are welcome,” the latter said in a statement. “(But) meetings that exclude the people of Myanmar but include murderer-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing… are unlikely to be helpful.”
The lawmakers called on the junta to “stop murdering civilians”, release more than 3,000 political prisoners and return power to the country’s democratically elected government.
“The crisis initiated by a murderous and unrepentant Myanmar military has engulfed the country, and will cause severe aftershocks — humanitarian and more — for the entire region,” rights group Amnesty International said ahead of the meeting.
“The Indonesian authorities are duty-bound to investigate Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other Myanmar military officials who may join his delegation to Jakarta,” it added. There have also been calls for the regional bloc to expel Myanmar.