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Myanmar shadow gov’t welcomes ASEAN call to end violence

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Myanmar’s security forces have used force to try and quell the pro-democracy protests, with hundreds killed in the crackdown. STR/AFP

Myanmar shadow gov’t welcomes ASEAN call to end violence

Myanmar's shadow government of ousted lawmakers has welcomed a call by Southeast Asian leaders for an end to "military violence" after their crisis talks in Jakarta with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.

The general attended a high-level summit on April 24 with leaders from the 10-country ASEAN to discuss Myanmar's mounting crisis.

Since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a February 1 coup, Myanmar has been in an uproar with near-daily protests and a nationwide civil disobedience movement.

Security forces have deployed live ammunition to quell the uprising, killing more than 740 people in brutal crackdowns, according to local monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

The ASEAN meeting produced a consensus that there would be "an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar", the bloc said on April 24.

It added that ASEAN would have a special envoy to "facilitate mediation" between all parties, and this representative would be able to travel to Myanmar.

But while it "heard calls for the release of all political prisoners", a commitment to free them was not included in the consensus statement.

A spokesperson from the shadow government – known as the National Unity Government (NUG) – on April 24 said ASEAN's statement was "encouraging news".

"We look forward to firm action by ASEAN to follow up its decisions and restore our democracy and freedom for our people and for the region," said Dr Sasa, the NUG's minister of international cooperation, who is currently in hiding with the rest of his fellow lawmakers.

The lawmakers – most of whom were part of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party – are wanted for high treason by the junta.

Overnight, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would continue to call for the release of political prisoners.

'Business as usual'

As Myanmar nears three months under the military regime, escalating violence by its security forces – especially in urban centres – has pushed protesters and prominent activists into hiding.

The junta has also throttled communications across the country, imposing a nightly internet shutdown for 70 consecutive days and restricting mobile data to a mere trickle.

Despite the threat of violence and arrest, protesters across Myanmar continued to take to the streets Sunday.

In central Myingyan – where brutal crackdowns have forced residents to hide in nearby villages – protesters smeared red paint on some of the city's buildings to protest the bloodshed.

"Give power back to the people," read graffiti on the city's sidewalks.

In Yangon's Tamwe township – a hotspot for unrest – police and soldiers broke up a small protest before noon, beating up and detaining three teenagers.

Independent news outlet The Irrawaddy also confirmed that a former editor, Thu Thu Tha, was arrested the night before in Thanlyin, a port city across the river from commercial hub Yangon.

The detentions add to the AAPP's growing number of detainees, which by April 24 was at 3,389.

"In spite of Min Aung Hlaing's appearance in the ASEAN summit, it's business as usual," Irrawaddy's founder Aung Zaw told AFP, adding that most of his staff were in hiding.

On April 24, as the junta chief attended the meeting with ASEAN leaders and foreign ministers in Jakarta, soldiers and police fired on protesters near Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw, killing a 50-year-old protester.

'Will the killing stop?'

State-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar on April 25 reported on Min Aung Hlaing's visit to Jakarta and said he discussed the country's "political changes".

But it made no mention of ASEAN's consensus for a halt to violence.

Tom Andrews, the UN's special rapporteur on Myanmar, said it remained to be seen how effective the bloc's engagement would be.

"The result of the ASEAN Summit will be found in Myanmar, not [in] a document," Andrews tweeted on April 25.

"Will the killing stop? Will the terrorizing of neighbourhoods end? Will the thousands abducted be released?"

The junta has justified its power seizure as a means to protect democracy, alleging electoral fraud in November elections which Suu Kyi's party won in a landslide.

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