The chief of Myanmar’s military junta is set to attend the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Indonesia next week, for his first known foreign trip since he led the coup on February 1.
- Pro-democracy politicians have announced the formation of a National Unity Government (NUG) for Myanmar
- The NUG wants to attend the ASEAN meeting instead of Min Aung Hlaing
- The junta released 23,184 prisoners from jails across the country under a New Year amnesty
Myanmar has been in upheaval with security forces killing 728 people, according to an activist group tally, since Min Aung Hlaing ousted the elected government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi,
Neighbouring countries have been trying to encourage talks between the rival sides in Myanmar to resolve the crisis but the military has shown little willingness to engage with them or talk to the ousted government.
Several leaders of the 10-member ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member, had confirmed their attendance at the meeting in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, including Min Aung Hlaing, Thai government spokesman Tanee Sangrat said.
A spokesman for the Myanmar junta did not answer calls seeking comment.
Pro-democracy politicians, including ousted members of parliament, announced the formation of a National Unity Government (NUG) on Friday, including Ms Suu Kyi, leaders of the anti-coup protests and ethnic minorities.
The NUG says it is the legitimate political authority. It has called for international recognition and for ASEAN to reject Min Aung Hlaing’s participation in the meeting and to invite it instead.
Prisoners released for New Year
Earlier on Saturday, the junta released 23,184 prisoners from jails across the country under a New Year amnesty, a Prisons Department spokesman said, though few if any democracy activists arrested since the coup were thought to be among them.
Saturday is the first day of the traditional New Year in Myanmar and the last day of a five-day holiday that is usually celebrated with visits to Buddhist temples and a rowdy water festival.
Pro-democracy activists called for the cancellation of the festivities this year and instead for people to focus on a campaign to restore democracy.
Ms Suu Kyi is among 3,141 people arrested in connection with the coup, according to a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group.
“These detainees are mostly from before February 1 but there are also some who were imprisoned after,” Prisons Department spokesman Kyaw Tun Oo told Reuters.
Asked if any of those being freed might have been detained in connection with the protests against military rule, he said he did not have details of the amnesties.
A rough road for the NUG
While the military was freeing the thousands of prisoners, it was also seeking 832 people on warrants in connection with the protests, the AAPP said.
Among them are 200 people, including several internet celebrities, actors and singers who have spoken out against the coup, wanted on a charge of encouraging dissent in the armed forces, which can carry a three-year jail term.
Two of them, the married couple of film director Christina Kyi and actor Zenn Kyi, were detained at the airport in the main city of Yangon on Saturday as they were trying to leave on a flight to Bangkok, the Irrawaddy news site reported.
The NUG’s vice-president, Duwal Sheila, an ethnic Kachin lawyer, said in a New Year message the road to replacing military rule with democracy would be rough.
Protesters took to the streets in the second city of Mandalay in support of the NUG, media reported.
The coup has also triggered clashes between the army and ethnic minority insurgent groups in the north and east.
On Saturday, fighters from the Kachin Independence Army attacked an air base in the north with rockets, one of which hit a nearby village house, injuring one person, the Mizzima news agency reported.
Ms Suu Kyi faces various charges including violating an official secrets act that could see her jailed for 14 years. Her lawyers reject the charges.
The military has defended its coup with accusations of fraud in a November election won by Ms Suu Kyi’s party, though the election commission dismissed the objections
The junta has said it will hold a new election within two years and hand power to the winner.