Myanmar junta leader to attend Asean summit

Myanmar junta leader to attend Asean summit

Myanmar junta chief Gen Min Aung Hlaing presides an army parade on Armed Forces Day in Nay Pyi Taw on March 27, 2021. He will join an Asean summit on Saturday. (Reuters photo)

Gen Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s junta leader, will attend an Asean summit in Jakarta where representatives of the bloc are expected to discuss Myanmar’s situation, according to Thailand’s Foreign Ministry.

“I can confirm that the Brunei Chair has proposed the date April 24 with the venue at the Secretariat in Jakarta,” ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said in a message to reporters.

“Several leaders have confirmed their attendance including Myanmar’s MAH [Senior General Min Aung Hlaing],” he added. “Some leaders have yet to confirm.”

Mr Tanee declined to name the leaders and also whether the meeting will be face to face, online or a mix of both.

The Myanmar military overthrew the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) on Feb 1. Protests against the coup continue across Myanmar and over 700 people have been killed during the crackdown.

The situation in Myanmar is expected to be highlighted during the summit.

The announcement drew dismay from activists, who have long beseeched foreign leaders not to recognise the junta.

“#ASEAN do not legitimise the Myanmar Military junta as a government by inviting MAH to attend the summit,” said prominent activist Wai Wai Nu on Twitter. “(The) Junta is illegitimate and illegal.”

By Saturday evening, #ASEANrejectSAC was among the top-trending on Myanmar’s twitter.

The military has consistently justified the putsch by alleging widespread fraud in November’s elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.

They claim power will be handed back to a civilian administration after elections are held in about a year — though they recently extended the timeline to a two-year period.

New Year crackdown

Saturday was the first day of Myanmar’s traditional New Year, and hundreds in commercial hub Yangon visited the famed Shwedagon Pagoda to pray as soldiers patrolled the streets.

Leading up to the Buddhist New Year, the Thingyan festivities were a sombre affair — a far cry from previous years when revellers would take to the streets for city-wide water fights.

Instead, activists sloshed crimson paint in Yangon to symbolise the bloodshed, while protesters wore red across the country in nationwide demonstrations.

More violence erupted Saturday in the central gem-producing city of Mogok, when security forces cracked down on protesters.

According to an AFP-verified video filmed by a resident, soldiers crouched on a street as their commanding officer shouted that he wanted “deaths”.

A rescue worker told AFP at least one had died.

“He was shot in the stomach,” he said, adding that six others injured had to be rushed to the hospital.

Despite the threat of violence, protesters have continued to gather across the country in defiance of the junta, carrying posters demanding for Suu Kyi to be freed.

Some demonstrations — like in Yangon and central Monywa city — also touted support of the so-called “National Unity Government”, a shadow administration formed by ousted MPs working in hiding to thwart junta rule.

“It has been more than 70 days since the coup… we can no longer see our future and goals,” said 19-year-old Max in Yangon.

“We have high hopes for a government that can compete with the military regime.”

Freeing up the prisons

The country’s jails are also releasing more than 23,000 prisoners nationwide, a prison official told AFP Saturday — part of its annual amnesty for Myanmar’s New Year.

Among them, more than 130 were foreigners, state-run media reported in the evening.

There have been two other mass releases since the coup.

The first was in mid-February, which rights groups feared was a move to free up space for military opponents, and the second on the eve of Armed Forces Day when the regime released around 900 detained demonstrators.

But its jails have continued to fill.

So far, more than 3,100 people — the bulk of them anti-coup protesters and activists — have been detained, according to local monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

It remains unclear if those released Saturday included post-coup detainees.

The junta has also issued nightly arrest warrants on state-run media, targeting celebrities, influencers, journalists and prominent activists with large social media followings.

Doctors refusing to work under the regime — leaving hospitals unstaffed in a pandemic — have also drawn the wrath of the junta.

By Saturday night, the arrest warrants for all totalled 420.