Myanmar junta chief to attend ASEAN summit on first foreign trip since coup

Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing will attend an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Indonesia on Apr 24, a Thai foreign ministry spokesman said on Saturday (Apr 17), for his first known foreign trip since he staged a Feb 1 coup.

Myanmar has been in upheaval since Min Aung Hlaing ousted an elected government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi, with security forces killing 728 people, according to an activist group tally, in an attempt to stamp out protests.

In the latest violence, security forces shot and killed two people in the ruby-mining town of Mogok, one of several towns in which crowds came out to protest on Saturday, a resident told Reuters and media reported.

Myanmar’s neighbours have been trying to encourage talks between the rival sides 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, the Thai spokesman, Tanee Sangrat, said.

A spokesman for the Myanmar junta did not answer calls seeking comment.

READ: Opponents of Myanmar coup form unity government, aim for ‘federal democracy’

Myanmar’s ousted government is likely to decry the junta chief’s participation in the meeting.

Pro-democracy politicians, including ousted members of parliament, announced the formation of a National Unity Government (NUG) on Friday, including Aung San Suu Kyi and 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.

A representative of the NUG was not immediately available for comment.

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.

A crowd waves to people onboard a bus that drove out of Insein prison in Yangon, Myanmar

A man, rear, smiles amidst a waiting crowd as he steps out of Insein prison in Yangon, Myanmar, on Apr 17, 2021. (AP Photo)

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 rowdy water throwing and partying in the streets.

Activists called for the cancellation of the festivities this year and instead for people to focus on a campaign to restore democracy.

Aung San 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 Feb 1 but there are also some who were imprisoned after,” Prisons Department spokesman Kyaw Tun Oo told Reuters by telephone.

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.

ROUGH ROAD

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.

Myanmar

A crowd waves to people onboard a bus that drove out of Insein prison in Yangon, Myanmar on Apr 17, 2021. (AP Photo)

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, Duwa Lashi La, an ethnic Kachin lawyer, said in a New Year message the road to replacing military rule with democracy would be rough.

“We pledge to continue working with all ethnic peoples to overthrow the military dictatorship and establish a new federal democracy,” he said.

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.

READ: Myanmar activists cancel new year festivities, hold low-key protests

Aung San Suu Kyi faces various charges including violating an official secrets act that could see her jailed for 14 years. Her lawyers dismiss the charges.

The military has defended its coup with accusations of fraud in a November election won by Aung San 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.

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