JAKARTA – A draft statement circulating the day before a Southeast Asian leaders’ summit on the Myanmar crisis included the release of political prisoners as one of its “consensus” points, said three sources familiar with the document.
But in the final statement at the end of Saturday’s meeting, the language on freeing political prisoners had been unexpectedly watered down and did not contain a firm call for their release, two of the sources said.
The absence of a strong position on this issue caused dismay among human rights activists and opponents of the coup, fueling criticism by them that the meeting had achieved little in the way of reining in the country’s military leaders.
Activist monitors say 3,389 people have been detained in a crackdown on dissent by the military since the Feb. 1 coup, and nearly 750 people have been killed.
The “five-point consensus” in the chairman’s statement at the end of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting did not refer to freeing political detainees. However, the statement separately mentioned that the summit “heard calls” for their release. The summit was attended by Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.
Among those held by the military are Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party was declared the winner of elections prior to the coup, as well as Myanmar’s democratically elected president and other lawmakers.
There was confusion after the summit as some leaders and diplomats made comments suggesting consensus had been reached on calling for release of political prisoners.
“Malaysia pushed for an end to the violence in Myanmar, the release of political detainees, and for an ASEAN Envoy to meet with all parties involved,” Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on social media on Sunday. “The Leaders reached consensus on these.”
An official in Hishammuddin’s ministry referred Reuters to the line in the chair’s statement that there were calls for the freeing of detainees.
Two sources who saw the draft of the consensus points, and requested anonymity, said they were surprised the language had been changed, but did not say how or when it was altered. Reuters has not seen the draft.
There was no immediate response to a request for comment from the Foreign Ministry of Brunei, which chaired the ASEAN summit.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said political prisoners would need to be “involved in any negotiated solution to the crisis.”
The five consensus points, however, include an undertaking for “all parties” in Myanmar to be involved in dialogue.
The other points of consensus were an end to violence, a special ASEAN envoy, humanitarian assistance and a visit by a delegation to Myanmar to “meet all parties concerned.”
At the summit, leaders and their representatives gave speeches on the situation in Myanmar, with coup leader Ming Aung Hlaing presenting his views last, said Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsieh Loong.
“He said he heard us, he would take the points in which he considered helpful,” Lee said.
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