April 22, 2021
The unity government, formed by opposition figures, urged to be invited to ASEAN talks in place of the general in power since a coup in February
Demonstrators flash the three-finger salute during a protest against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar, yesterday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Burmese democracy advocates yesterday launched protests calling for the release of prisoners detained by Myanmar’s military government, as the junta declared a national unity government formed by its opponents illegal.
The Southeast Asian country has been in crisis since the military on Feb. 1 seized power from Burmese State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, with almost daily protests against the coup occurring despite a brutal crackdown by the junta on dissent.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said that 738 people have been killed by security forces since the coup and 3,300 people are in detention, including 20 who have been sentenced to death.
“Please raise your voice and demand the release of all the people who are being unfairly detained under the junta government,” protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung wrote on Facebook.
People yesterday shared photos on social media wearing blue shirts and holding up a hand with the name of an arrested person written on it.
The shirts are a tribute to democracy advocate Win Tin, who was imprisoned by the military for 19 years and died on April 21, 2014.
After his release, he pledged to wear a blue shirt until all political prisoners were freed.
The junta has since the coup released thousands of people from jail, but relatively few who have been linked to the protests.
Meanwhile, military-backed TV channel Myawaddy TV on Tuesday reported that the Burmese Ministry of Home Affairs had declared unlawful a national unity government formed by opponents of the junta.
Pro-democracy politicians including ousted lawmakers on Friday last week announced the formation of the new administration that nominally includes Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the coup, as well as leaders of the protests and ethnic minorities.
The national unity government says it is the legitimate authority, and has requested international recognition and an invitation to an ASEAN meeting in Jakarta on Saturday to discuss the crisis in Myanmar.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statement said that the bloc, which includes Myanmar, should immediately withdraw an invitation to Burmese Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the coup.
“Min Aung Hlaing, who faces international sanctions for his role in military atrocities and the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, should not be welcomed at an intergovernmental gathering to address a crisis he created,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams said.
ASEAN has been trying to guide Myanmar out of the bloody turmoil triggered by the coup, but the group’s principles of consensus and noninterference have restricted its ability to overcome members’ divergent views on how to respond to the military killing of hundreds of civilians.
Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, who is also the country’s prime minister, is to chair Saturday’s meeting, his office said in a statement.
The military has shown little willingness to engage with its neighbors and no sign of wanting to talk to members of the government it ousted, accusing some of them of treason, which is punishable by death.
UN Special Envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener has communicated with the military since the coup, but the junta has not allowed her to visit.
Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hishammuddin Hussein said that the country’s prime minister would attend the meeting.
“We hope that with the coming discussions in Jakarta, Myanmar will agree to accept representatives from the ASEAN chair Brunei or the ASEAN secretariat in Jakarta to observe and help Myanmar return to normalcy,” he told reporters.
However, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that he would be represented by his deputy, Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai.
Thai and Malaysian officials have said that Min Aung Hlaing would go to Jakarta, although the Burmese government has not commented.