Myanmar’s parallel government on Wednesday rejected holding talks with the junta that seized power in early February until the military regime releases more than 3,000 political prisoners, rebuffing a plan by the country’s Southeast Asian neighbors.
Leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met last Saturday and signed a “five-point consensus” on resolving the crisis by halting army violence against civilian protesters and holding talks.
Members of the pro-democracy National Unity Government (NUG), formed on Apr. 16, said they will not engage in dialogue until detained leaders from the previous civilian-led government, including deposed State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, are freed. They also want ASEAN members and other nations to recognize the NUG as the legitimate government of Myanmar.
“In order to have a meaningful dialogue, it is very clear that it is only possible if our leaders who are being detained are freed,” Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told RFA, speaking for the NUG.
“We believe that only when they are freed will the talks be fair and meaningful,” he said.
Many leaders, other officials, and lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD) were arrested by the military during and after the Feb. 1 coup, while those who evaded arrest have formed the NUG.
Political leaders and analysts in Myanmar said ASEAN’s stance on the crisis was unfair to pro-democratic forces and would prolong the current military dictatorship. They also said that the release of the more than 3,400 people who are being detained by junta forces is a key condition for resolving the crisis.
Security forces, including police, have conducted violent crackdowns on anti-coup protesters in cities and towns nationwide, at times using deadly force. More than 750 people have been killed since the coup began, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Thailand-based human rights group.
Proposal deserves support
Nandar Hla Myint, spokesman for the military-proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), said ASEAN’s proposal deserves support.
“I believe ASEAN is serious about the situation of individual countries in the region, and at the same time it adheres to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country, so it came up with something acceptable to both sides,” he said.
The five-point agreement calls for an ASEAN envoy and delegation to visit Myanmar to meet with concerned parties, but junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has said that the visit would be considered only if there was internal stability.
A political analyst who declined to be named said the regime leader’s comment could mean that the crackdowns will continue and that the visit will be put off.
“None of the five demands in the agreement calls for the release of detained leaders,” he said. “Min Aung Hlaing has no intention of releasing them. Who are they going to negotiate with, then, if the unlawfully arrested leaders are not released? There is no need to hold discussions with anyone.”
Myint Oo, an NLD lawmaker from Bago region who won a seat in the November 2020 elections, said the political crisis could not be solved by ASEAN’s recommendations and that the grouping’s suggestions were an insult to people protesting peacefully for democracy.
“Look at the way ASEAN said that both sides should cease violence, as if it was the peaceful protesters who were using violence. This fact alone is offensive to the gentle and peaceful citizens who are staging this Spring Revolution,” he told RFA.
Thein Tun Oo, executive director of the pro-military think tank the Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, said he believed the military council would comply with ASEAN’s points if the demands were in line with a law enacted in the national interest.
“We believe we can do everything we can in the national interest within a legal framework.” he said. “We certainly see it will move forward step by step. It might not move as speedily as they would expect, but each of the five demands could be implemented at appropriate times.”
Junta outlaws AAPP
Continuing its drive to cut off the flow of information about killings and arrests in the crackdown, the junta outlawed the AAPP after accusing the group of producing biased information and incorrect data that hurt the stability and rule of law in Myanmar.
The Ministry for Home Affairs under the State Administration Council, as the junta government is known, announced on Monday that it would take action against the AAPP for releasing what it said was inaccurate data to intimidate and cause anxiety among civil servants and the public, which could be interpreted as inciting violence.
The AAPP publishes daily updates on the numbers of people killed, arrested, and released by the military and police in connection with anti-junta. The statements have been cited frequently by foreign governments, media, and other international organizations.
Pro-army pundit Thein Tun Oo agreed with the junta’s move, saying AAPP reports are “weak in background checks or references, and the numbers get inflated.”
The AAPP, however, said it has compiled lists of detainees since the day of the military coup along with the names of the dead, places where the attacks occurred, dates of deaths, and causes of death.
“Everything is recorded with photos and video recordings and the data published daily,” the organization said in response to an RFA query.
The military regime is attacking the AAPP because it is recognized by the U.N., foreign governments, and rights groups as a credible source of information about political prisoners in Myanmar, said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“They are trying to silence a very important organization that is doing a very difficult job. It is an attempt to keep the outside world from hearing what is happening in Burma,” he said.
More protests, arrests
Sporadic demonstration in support of the NUG and anti-junta protests continued to be held in townships in Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing, Bago, and Tanintharyi regions as well as in Shan and Kachin states.
The AAPP said the death toll as of Wednesday was 756 and that 3,449 people were arrested, while another 1,237 people were in hiding while facing charges.
At least two people were killed and 15 were arrested amid protests and clashes between demonstrators and security forces on Wednesday, witnesses said.
In Sagaing region, a military corporal was killed during a brief clash between the Tamu People’s Defense Force and Myanmar soldiers Tuesday evening near the Indian border, residents said.
Soldiers took away the body of Corporal Aung Aung, a local soldier who had joined the Civil Disobedience Movement of striking workers in March, they said.
In the Sagaing town of Monywa, where residents have been holding daily anti-junta protests, soldiers took away nine people from three neighborhoods Tuesday night, locals said.
“Nine got arrested,” said a resident who declined to be named. “They were accused of communicating with underground forces. There had been a series of explosions in the area recently, so their arrests could be connected to that.”
An explosion on a bridge in Kachin state Tuesday night caused the structure’s foundation to crack and some rafters on nearby railroad tracks connecting the towns of Myitkyina and Mandalay to catch fire, said a resident of Hopin where the blast occurred. It is not clear who was behind the bombings.
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