Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing will attend an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Indonesia on April 24, a Thai foreign ministry spokesperson said on Saturday, for his first trip since he staged a Feb 1 coup.
According to an activist group tally, security forces in Myanmar killed 728 people in an attempt to stamp out protests. The country has been in a state of turmoil since Min Aung Hlaing ousted an elected government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi. Reuters on Saturday reported that in a recent incident, security forces in Myanmar killed two people in the ruby-ming town of Magok, one of the several towns where crowds came out to protest. Myanmar’s neighbours have been trying to encourage talks between the warring factions. But the military has shown no inclination towards engaging in talks with them or to the ousted government.
The Thai Spokesperson, Tanee Sangrat said that several leaders of the 10-member ASEAN group had confirmed their presence in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, including Min Aung Hlaing. A spokesperson for the Myanmar junta did not answer any calls for comment. Myanmar’s ousted government is likely to condemn the junta chief’s participation in the international meet.
Meanwhile, some pro-democracy politicians including expelled members of parliament, announced the formation of a National Unity Government (NUG) on Friday, including Aung San Suu Kyi and leaders of anti-coup protests and ethnic minorities. The NUG desires international recognition and wants ASEAN to reject Min Aung Hlaing’s participation in the international meeting. The NUG seeks ASEAN to invite it instead. No representative of NUG was available for immediate comment on the matter. The junta, on Saturday, released about 23,184 prisoners from jails across the country under a New Year amnesty, a prison department spokesperson told The Indian Express.
Though very few among those arrested, are thought to be democratic activists. Saturday is the first day of the traditional New Year in Myanmar and the last day of a five-day holiday. It is usually celebrated with a visit to Buddhist temples and noisy water throwing and partying in the streets. Pro-democracy activists called for the festivities to be dropped and instead want people to focus on the restoration of democracy.
According to a tally conducted by the Assistant Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group, Suu Kyi was among 3,141 people arrested in connection with the coup. A prison department spokesman told Reuters that he did not have any details whether any of those being freed might have been in connection with the protests against military rule.
THE ROUGH ROAD AHEAD
While the military was freeing thousands of prisoners, it was also keeping 832 people on warrants in connection with the protests, the AAPP reported. Among them are 200 people, including several internet celebrities, actors and singers who have raised their voice against the coup.
The coup has also triggered clashes between the army and ethnic minority insurgent groups in the north and east. Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi faces various charges for violating an official secrets act for which she could face jail for 14 years. Her lawyers dismissed the charges though. Despite the election commission dismissing the objections raised by the military, the regime defended its coup by accusing Suu Kyi’s party of committing fraud in the November elections. The junta has said that it will conduct new elections within two years and hand power to the winner.