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Southeast Asian Summit Will Address Violence Post Myanmar Coup

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The man who led the coup in Myanmar will meet with Southeast Asian leaders this weekend. They're going to talk about ways to end the violence there. Reporter Michael Sullivan has been asking, what are the chances it will work?

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Nearly three months after the coup, with more than 730 civilian dead, former Singaporean diplomat Bilahari Kausikan says it's time for the protesters to accept some hard truths.

BILAHARI KAUSIKAN: Nobody is going to come to their help. That's a fact. So you have to be honest with them and say, nobody's going to help you. You have our sympathy; you have our support. But there's nobody going to intervene to protect you.

SULLIVAN: Pretending otherwise, he says, is only going to get more protesters killed. So the international community needs to talk to the military, he says, get it to agree to end its crackdown and follow through on its pledge to hold new elections, however imperfect they may be.

KAUSIKAN: What you need to do is to win the confidence of the Myanmar military and offer them a way out, to show them that they can relinquish power while maintaining a political role.

SULLIVAN: And engagement, he says, doesn't mean acceptance. Bill Hayton, an associate fellow with the Asia-Pacific Program at London's Chatham House think tank, agrees.

BILL HAYTON: Now I don't necessarily mean that we say they're the legitimate government. But we recognize the fact that they are the only ones who can stop the violence, and, therefore we've got to talk to them. I mean, clearly, huge crimes are being committed. But all I'm really thinking about is the - what's the least bloody way out of this?

SULLIVAN: Saturday's special ASEAN summit on the Myanmar crisis offers Myanmar's neighbors a chance to take the lead on a negotiated solution - if coup leader Min Aung Hlaing is willing to listen and if, Hayton says, there's unity among ASEAN member states.

HAYTON: Some part of me thinks Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, maybe Thailand kind of welcome the fact that Myanmar will be taking the heat for some time. They have no interest in ASEAN being a force to press for good governance and all the rest of it. I mean, they don't want interference in their domestic affairs.

SULLIVAN: But it's the best chance yet for the country's neighbors to convince the Myanmar military to compromise amid growing talk of Myanmar being on the brink of collapse.

MOE THUZAR: If that happens, then that affects regional stability. And that, for me, is the big reason for Myanmar becoming the main point of a regional intervention initiative.

SULLIVAN: Moe Thuzar is Myanmar coordinator at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. Whatever ASEAN's motive, she says, talking is needed but must include the shadow government set up by the coup's opponents last week. And even if the military agrees to a return of some kind of civilian rule, Bilahari Kausikan says the price it will exact will be high for Myanmar's deposed civilian leader.

KAUSIKAN: As far as Aung San Suu Kyi is concerned, we will just have to bite the bullet and say there's no political role for the future. What we should focus on is ensuring her personal safety and, if possible, making sure that she is as comfortable as possible under house arrest.

SULLIVAN: But Moe Thuzar says none of this may be acceptable to the protesters in the streets who may not be willing to accept any deal that allows Myanmar's military any future role in politics.

THUZAR: The reality is that the people of Myanmar recognize it's - we have to do what we need to do for our future. And if the path available now is to continue with the resistance, with the protests and continue trying to support and encourage more civil disobedience movement participants, then so be it.

SULLIVAN: That's likely to mean more dead and more chaos.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.