Myanmar’s army chief urged to end violent crackdown against its people

South Asian leaders have urged Myanmar’s army chief to end the violent crackdown in the country, after taking power in a coup in February. Since the takeover this was General Min Aung Hlaing’s first foreign trip.

Calls for the military to stop killing protesters and to release political prisoners rose. More than 700 people have been killed and thousands detained since the coup.

The talks in Indonesia were the first big effort to address the crisis.

A statement released after the summit said the leaders and foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had reached a consensus on five points.

They included asking for an immediate stop to the violence and opening a dialogue between the military and civilian leaders, with that process overseen by a special ASEAN envoy who would also visit with a delegation. The group also offered humanitarian assistance.

The consensus was welcomed by Myanmar’s newly formed National Unity Government (NUG), a group made up of opponents of the coup, including pro-democracy figures, representatives of the armed ethnic groups and former members of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s former government.

After the meeting, which was held in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the general was “not opposed” to a visit by as ASEAN delegation or humanitarian assistance, adding: “He said he heard us, he would take the points in which he considered helpful.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin also called for unconditional release of political prisoners. Aung San Suu Kyi remains in detention, as well as anti-coup leaders.

“The deplorable situation in Myanmar must stop immediately,” he said.

Demonstrators gathered near the venue of the summit, beating pots and pans and holding signs that read “Restore democracy” and “We stand against the military coup”. Protests were also held in Myanmar’s main cities but there were no immediate reports of violence.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres had called for the Asean summit to resolve the crisis and prevent “possible grave humanitarian implications beyond Myanmar’s borders,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Mass protests have been taking place across Myanmar since the military seized control and declared a year-long state of emergency.

The armed forces claim there had been widespread fraud during a general election late last year which had returned elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party (NLD) to power.

The military promised instead that it would hold “free and fair” elections once the state of emergency is over.