Seven SE Asian leaders and Myanmar junta chief to attend crisis summit-sources

·3 min read

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Seven Southeast Asian leaders are expected to attend a summit with head of Myanmar's junta to discuss the crisis caused by the military coup, according to diplomats and officials in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital where Saturday's meeting will be held.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup that deposed Myanmar's democratically-elected government in February, is expected to participate in the summit of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the sources said.

Thailand's prime minister and the president of the Philippines have said they would send their foreign ministers. ASEAN's other members include Myanmar itself, Brunei, Cambodia, the host Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

The meeting is the first concerted international effort to ease the crisis in Myanmar where security forces have killed hundreds of pro-democracy protesters since the Feb.1 coup. It is also a test for ASEAN, which traditionally does not interfere in the internal affairs of a member state and operates by consensus.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged ASEAN leaders to help prevent an escalation of the crisis and "possible grave humanitarian implications beyond Myanmar's borders," said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Wednesday.

He said U.N. special envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener "will be in Jakarta to engage ASEAN leaders on the sidelines of Saturday's meeting, focusing on a political solution."

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an activist group, says 739 people have been killed by Myanmar's security forces since the coup and 3,300 people are in detention.

Myanmar's military has shown no sign of wanting to talk to members of the government it ousted, accusing some of them of treason, which is punishable by death.

Analysts and former diplomats say the summit could be the most consequential in ASEAN's 54-year history.

It was imperative there was "a concrete and tangible outcome," said Rizal Sukma, senior research fellow at the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies and, until last year, Indonesia's ambassador to the United Kingdom.

"The summit cannot be another round of expression of concern."

Malaysia and the Philippines have said they would support a plan for the ASEAN chair, Brunei, and the group's secretary-general, or their representatives, to visit Myanmar.

ASEAN officials have also been considering a proposal for a humanitarian mission to Myanmar that would deliver medical supplies needed to counter COVID-19 and other illnesses, along with food. This could be a potential first step in a long-term plan to broker dialogue between the junta and its opponents, diplomats told Reuters.

Last week, pro-democracy politicians, including ousted members of parliament, announced the formation of a National Unity Government (NUG) that nominally includes deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the coup, as well as leaders of the protests and ethnic minorities.

Mynamar's home affairs ministry has declared the NUG unlawful, but the NUG says it is the legitimate authority in Myanmar and has requested international recognition and an invitation to the Jakarta meeting. It has also demanded that ASEAN withdraw the invitation to the junta leader.

"Please, ASEAN member states, (do) not recognise the coup," said Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, who has been named as a minister in the NUG.

"Please recognise and hear the cry of Myanmar’s people... by collaborating, supporting or recognising the National Unity Government of Myanmar," she said in a call on Thursday with an ASEAN lawmakers' group.

(Reporting by Tom Allard and Rozanna Latiff; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)