Junta chief to attend Asean summit

Free at last: A man hugging his relatives after being released from the Insein Prison in Yangon. — Reuters

The country’s junta chief Min Aung Hlaing will attend an Asean summit in Indonesia on April 24, for his first known foreign trip since he staged a Feb 1 coup, a Thai foreign ministry spokesperson said.

Myanmar has been in an upheaval since 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 yesterday, a resident said 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 Hlaing, the Thai spokesperson Tanee Sangrat said yesterday.

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 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 Hlaing’s participation in the meeting and to invite it instead.

The junta announced yesterday that it pardoned and released 23,184 prisoners to mark the new year holiday, but it wasn’t immediately clear if they included pro-democracy activists who were detained in the wake of the February coup.Yesterday 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.

The release was announced on state broadcaster MRTV, which said Hlaing pardoned the 23,047 prisoners, including 137 foreigners who will be deported from Myanmar.

He also reduced sentences for others.

Early prisoner releases are customary during major holidays, but this is the second time the ruling junta has done so since it overthrew the elected government.

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

Suu Kyi is among 3,141 people arrested in connection with the coup, according to a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.

“These detainees are mostly held from before the Feb 1 coup but there are also some who were imprisoned after, ” Prisons Department spokesperson 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. — Agencies

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junta , Min Aung Hlaing , Asean summit


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