Leaders of nine Southeast Asian countries on Saturday called for an immediate end to the violence in Myanmar, where the military government has cracked down violently on the enormous protests over its February coup.
At an emergency summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held in Jakarta, Indonesia’s president called the situation in Myanmar “unacceptable.”
“The violence must be stopped and democracy, stability and peace in Myanmar must be restored,” President Joko Widodo said.
Hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters have demonstrated in the months since Myanmar’s military seized full control of the country from the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
In response, the military has imposed Internet blackouts, arrested thousands and fired on protesters. At least 748 people have been killed and 3,389 are being detained, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Burmese human rights group based in Thailand.
The official statement released Saturday by ASEAN leaders makes five demands of the military junta, including an “immediate cessation” of the violence and a peaceful solution to the situation via “constructive dialogue,” mediated by a special envoy appointed by ASEAN. The leaders also demanded that Myanmar’s military government allow the arrival of humanitarian assistance.
The military’s leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who was in attendance, did not make a public statement. The summit was his first trip outside Myanmar since the coup.
The invitation of the general was criticized by opponents of the coup, including the new National Unity Government in Myanmar, formed earlier this month by pro-democracy politicians who have named the deposed democratic leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, as their leaders.
The National Unity Government argued the general’s invitation risked legitimizing the military coup and had called on Interpol to arrest General Min Aung Hlaing upon his arrival in Jakarta.
In a statement released after the summit, the group’s spokesperson, Dr. Sasa, praised ASEAN’s actions.
“We welcome the encouraging news that ASEAN leaders have reached consensus that the military violence in Myanmar must stop and political prisoners released,” Sasa said. “… We look forward to firm action by ASEAN to follow up its decisions and restore our democracy and freedom for our people and our region.”
ASEAN has traditionally defaulted to a more hands-off approach to the internal affairs of its 10 member nations. In the days after the coup in February, the bloc issued a statement urging a “return to normalcy” but stopped short of explicit condemnation.
But ahead of Saturday’s summit, pro-democracy advocates and organizations urged ASEAN to take a stronger stand.
“This is not an internal matter for Myanmar but a major human rights and humanitarian crisis which is impacting the entire region and beyond,” said Emerlynne Gil of Amnesty International ahead of Saturday’s summit.
Myanmar’s deposed ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, who drew international praise for denouncing the coup in a remarkable speech before the U.N. General Assembly in February, pleaded with ASEAN to prioritize civilians.
“Whatever the decision made by the leaders of the ASEAN, they should take into account the saving lives of innocent civilians in Myanmar and providing humanitarian assistance to the people in need,” Kyaw Moe Tun said in an interview with Al-Jazeera ahead of Saturday’s summit.
In Myanmar, protests have mostly quieted in recent weeks due to the crackdowns. According to The Associated Press, some 150 protesters gathered Friday in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, but dispersed quickly when police arrived.