Myanmar activists deride Asean-junta consensus

Published April 26, 2021
This photo taken and received from an anonymous source via Facebook on April 25 shows protesters' red hand prints as they hold a “red paint protest” as part of demonstrations against the military coup in Myingyan. — AFP
This photo taken and received from an anonymous source via Facebook on April 25 shows protesters' red hand prints as they hold a “red paint protest” as part of demonstrations against the military coup in Myingyan. — AFP

YANGON: Myanmar’s pro-democracy activists sharply criticised an agreement between the country’s junta chief and Southeast Asian leaders to end a violent post-coup crisis and vowed on Sunday to continue protesting.

Some scattered protests took place in Myanmar’s big cities on Sunday, a day after the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in Indonesia reached a consensus to end the turmoil in Myanmar, but gave no timeline.

“Whether it is Asean or the UN, they will only speak from outside saying ‘don’t fight but negotiate and solve the issues’. But that doesn’t reflect Myanmar’s ground situation,” said Khin Sandar from a protest group called the General Strikes Collaboration Committee. “We will continue the protests,” she said.

According to a statement from Asean chair Brunei, a consensus was reached in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta on five points — ending violence, constructive dialogue among all parties, a special Asean envoy, acceptance of aid and a visit by the envoy to Myanmar.

The five-point consensus did not mention political prisoners, although the statement said the meeting heard calls for their release.

A draft statement circulating the day before the summit included the release of political prisoners as a consensus point, said three sources familiar with the document. But in the final statement, the language on political prisoners was unexpectedly watered down, they added.

As Saturday’s statement was issued in Jakarta, at least three soldiers were killed and several injured in an armed clash with a local militia in the town of Mindat in western Myanmar, the Chin state Human Rights Organisation said.

The militia, armed with hunting rifles, attacked the troops after several protesters were arrested, it said.

Asean leaders had wanted a commitment from Min Aung Hlaing to restrain his security forces, which the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) says have killed 748 people since a civil disobedience movement erupted to challenge his Feb 1 coup against the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. AAPP, a Myanmar activist group, says over 3,300 are in detention.

“We realised that whatever the outcome from the meeting, it will not reflect what people want,” said Wai Aung a protest organiser in Yangon. “We will keep up protests and strikes till the military regime completely fails.” Several people took to social media to criticise the deal.

“Asean’s statement is a slap on the face of the people who have been abused, killed and terrorised by the military,” said a Facebook user called Mawchi Tun. “We do not need your help with that mindset and approach.” Aaron Htwe, another Facebook user, wrote: “Who will pay the price for the over 700 innocent lives?” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said it was unfortunate that only the junta chief represented Myanmar at the meeting.

“Not only were the representatives of the Myanmar people not invited to the Jakarta meeting but they also got left out of the consensus that Asean is now patting itself on the back for reaching,” he said in a statement.

“The lack of a clear timeline for action, and Asean’s well known weakness in implementing the decisions and plans that it issues, are real concerns that no one should overlook.” The Asean gathering was the first coordinated international effort to ease the crisis in Myanmar, an impoverished country that neighbours China, India and Thailand and has been in turmoil since the coup. Besides the protests, deaths and arrests, a nationwide strike has crippled economic activity.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2021

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