Airstrikes after the Jakarta Summit
The Myanmar military unleashed a wave of airstrikes after ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting was held. The junta will only take ASEAN’s suggestions into consideration.
THE Myanmar military junta led by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has not heeded the outcome of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders’ Meeting, namely a request for an immediate end to the violence. A week after their meeting in Jakarta on Saturday, April 24, the Myanmar military unleashed over 30 aerial attacks in parts of the Kachin State. While Karen State or Kayin was also bombed more than 10 times. This wave of airstrikes sent thousands of residents scrambling for safety.
A report from Altsean, a civilian organization which fights for human rights and democracy in Myanmar, released on Friday, April 30, mentioned that the attacks are actually increasing. Nearly 100 citizens of Myanmar have been arrested, adding to the long list of over 4,400 people who have been taken into custody by the police and military. The junta has also issued arrest warrants for 138 other citizens of Myanmar.
Khin Ohmar, a Myanmar pro-democracy activist, considers that the meeting in Jakarta did not have any serious impact on her country. If fact, while the meeting was taking place, security forces continued to abuse and arrest citizens. A day after the meeting, even more people were arrested. “Journalists and students were arrested in broad daylight and beaten,” said that Chair of Progressive Voice at an online press conference held by the Asia Forum and the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights on April 26.
Salai Maung Taing San, a spokesman for the National Unity Government (NUG), said that the military junta made five decisions after the ASEAN meeting, by continuing to kill civilians, terrorize their 54 million people, and take people hostage. “They also continue to torture political prisoners and bomb villages,” said this politician better known as Doctor Sasa on his Twitter account. The NUG is a rival government formed by a coalition of leaders and civilian organizations, members of parliament who were elected in the general election last year but were rejected by the junta, and the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting intended to open a new avenue for resolving the Myanmar crisis. This has been their first in-person meeting during the Covid-19 pandemic since the Myanmar military carried out a coup on February 1. Those in attendance were: Indonesian President Joko Widodo; Meeting Chair Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam, which holds the current ASEAN Chair; Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin; Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh; Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen; and Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha did not attend the event, but sent Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte was absent, sending instead Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin Jr. President of Laos Thongloun Sisoulith sent Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith in his place. The rise in the number of Covid-19 cases was the reason those three leaders could not attend.
The meeting participants reached a consensus to resolve the Myanmar crisis, namely having an end to the violence, holding a dialogue to seek a peaceful solution, having a special envoy, humanitarian aid, and a visit of the ASEAN envoy. Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said that the five points of that consensus came from a discussion held among the foreign ministers, which took place during the dinner before the main summit. “The most important matter is a cessation of the use of violence,” said Retno on April 29.
In that meeting, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing did recognize that consensus. However, the State Administration Council—the official name of the military junta in Myanmar—stated that it will give careful consideration to the suggestions of the ASEAN leaders when the situation returns to stability in the country. In a statement published in government media The Global New Light of Myanmar two days after the meeting, the Council underlined that they would consider ASEAN’s suggestions if they were in line with their roadmap.
The NUG said that the meeting of ASEAN leaders and their consensus do not reflect the situation and aspirations of the people of Myanmar. NUG Prime Minister Winn Khaing Thann considers that the first point of the consensus which reads “all parties shall exercise utmost restraint” is a mistake. The thing is, only the military is using violence against the people of Myanmar. “That violence is one-sided and committed by only one party,” said Winn in his press statement.
ASEAN did not grant the NUG request to attend in Jakarta. Rather than obtain clarification from the NUG regarding the junta’s pressure on the people of Myanmar, according to Winn, ASEAN had given a stage to Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
Winn asked ASEAN to involve the NUG more in the discussions for the mission of the special envoy, humanitarian aid, and the mechanism for monitoring the military regime’s compliance with the points of the consensus. Winn appreciated ASEAN’s efforts to facilitate a dialogue between the stakeholders in Myanmar, but urged that Aung Sang Suu Kyi and President Win Myint be released before any dialogue is held.
ASEAN is not unanimous regarding the release of political prisoners held by the military junta. Their consensus did not mention the matter of their release. The issue was only a part of the chairman’s statement on the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting. Even so, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore are among the ASEAN members which are urging that the political prisoners be released immediately.
According to Minister Retno, from the outset, President Joko Widodo has said that the release of political prisoners is an important step. “An inclusive dialogue cannot be created if political prisoners are not released,” said Retno.
Former President of Timor-Leste Jose Ramos-Horta said that these differing stances were the main factor why ASEAN has found it difficult to be unanimous in facing the Myanmar crisis. After the coup, according to Ramos Horta, only Malaysia and Indonesia immediately criticized the situation in Myanmar, while other member countries were silent. During an online seminar held by Asia Democracy Research Network on Thursday, April 29, Horta also said that citing respecting independence should not be the benchmark when crimes against humanity are occurring.
At that same forum, Evan A. Laksmana, a researcher from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said that ASEAN needs to quickly take action to end the violence and to support efforts to secure the release of people who have been detained by the military, including political prisoners. “The five points of that consensus is not a final solution,” he said.
Rachel Arinii, the East Asia and ASEAN Advocacy Program Manager in the Asian Forum, said that the ASEAN meeting does not reflect a serious effort to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. Moreover, the ASEAN consensus does not address the matter of the over 700 people who have died since the coup occurred. “This is concerning,” she said.
Another problem is that ASEAN does not yet recognize the National Unity Government. According to Arinii, by speaking only to the military junta, ASEAN seems to be legitimizing it. In the end, the meeting in Jakarta only benefited Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who could easily find reasons to sidestep that consensus.