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attention of an ASEAN regional meeting during a rally on April 20, 2021 in Yangon, Myanmar.
But an invitation extended to Gen. Min Aung Hlaing — the junta chief who led the coup — has sparked outrage among Burmese activists and human rights groups who feel his presence, whether online or in person, would lend legitimacy to the junta’s rule.
“ASEAN needs to be careful if it is seen to be legitimating the junta even if it’s not its intention,” said Ja Ian Chong, a political scientist from Singapore. “If ASEAN is seen to be siding with the junta, that would probably create more disquiet and unhappiness among all the other groups in Myanmar.”
Leading Myanmar activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi said Min Aung Hlaing’s attendance at the summit would “signal not just to people in Myanmar but also in other countries in Southeast Asia that the ASEAN institution is immoral.” She urged ASEAN not to give the junta what it wants: “recognition and a seat with you.”
Others have called for the National Unity Government, formed last week by ousted lawmakers and opponents of the coup and which considers itself to be the legitimate government of Myanmar, to be invited to the special summit.
“ASEAN cannot adequately discuss the situation in Myanmar without hearing from and speaking to the National Unity Government. If ASEAN’s purpose really is to strengthen democracy, as stated by its Charter, they must give them a seat at the table,” said Charles Santiago, chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and a Malaysian member of parliament.
Inviting the junta but not the National Unity Government is hugely controversial. Many human rights defenders and activists believe ASEAN should disengage with Myanmar’s military entirely and only work with representatives of the National Unity Government.
Dr. Sasa, the spokesperson for the National Unity Government, said in an open letter to ASEAN it was “fully prepared” to participate in the summit and warned engagement with Myanmar’s military should only occur if the junta stops its killing of civilians and other abuses, its airstrikes in the southeast of the country, releases detainees, and returns power to the elected government.
On Thursday, the National Unity Government sent a letter to INTERPOL calling for the arrest junta leader Min Aung Hlaing ahead of his reported planned trip to the summit.