Myanmar’s pro-democracy activists sharply criticised an agreement between the country’s junta chief and Southeast Asian leaders to end the nation’s violent post-coup crisis and vowed on Sunday to continue their protest campaign.
Some scattered peaceful 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 Jakarta, Indonesia, reached a consensus to end the turmoil in the country, but gave no timeline.
“Whether it is ASEAN or the U.N., 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. We have plans to do so,” she said.
According to a statement from ASEAN chair Brunei, a consensus was reached in Jakarta on five points – ending violence, a constructive dialogue among all parties, a special ASEAN envoy to facilitate the dialogue, acceptance of aid and a visit by the envoy to Myanmar.
The five-point consensus did not mention political prisoners, although the chairman’s statement said the meeting “heard calls” for their release.
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 mass civil disobedience movement erupted to challenge his February 1 coup against the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
AAPP, a Myanmar activist group, says over 3,300 are in detention.
“We realized that whatever the outcome from the ASEAN 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.
Myanmar’s parallel National Unity Government (NUG), comprised of pro-democracy figures, remnants of Suu Kyi’s ousted administration and representatives of armed ethnic groups, said it welcomed the consensus reached but added the junta had to be held to its promises.
“We look forward to firm action by ASEAN to follow up its decisions and to restore our democracy,” said Dr. Sasa, spokesman for the NUG.
Besides the junta chief, the leaders of Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Brunei were at the meeting, along with the foreign ministers of Laos, Thailand and the Philippines. The NUG was not invited but spoke privately to some of the participating countries before the meeting.