Biden, Indonesia’s Widodo demand Myanmar free prisoners

US president also ‘expressed support’ for ASEAN’s position to block Myanmar’s military leader from attending its summit amid continued violence.

According to the latest data gathered by rights monitor AAPP, there have been at least 1,229 people killed since the coup, while more than 9,500 have been arrested [File: Stringer/Reuters]

US President Joe Biden and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo called on Myanmar’s military to release political prisoners and halt all violence during a meeting on the sidelines of the UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

According to the White House, they “expressed concern about the coup in Burma and agreed the Burmese military must cease violence, release all political prisoners, and provide for a swift return to democracy”.

Biden also “expressed support” for ASEAN’s position on Myanmar’s military government, which last month boycotted a summit of the Southeast Asian regional grouping after its chief was banned from the virtual event.

Myanmar has been mired in violence and civil unrest since a military coup seized power in February.

According to the latest data gathered by the rights monitor, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), there have been at least 1,229 people killed since the coup, while more than 9,500 have been arrested.

Protesters have also faced beatings and arrests; according to reports, at least 131 who died were tortured to death.

Violence between the military and ethnic rebel groups has also erupted, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate within the country or across the border to Thailand.

Earlier on Monday, the Biden administration welcomed a private mission to Myanmar by former US ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson, as a possible way to help speed humanitarian access to the country.

Private mission

The State Department said Richardson was making the trip on his own but hoped he could help convince Myanmar’s leaders to allow in much-needed aid for the coronavirus pandemic and other urgent needs.

“Governor Richardson has extensive experience working on humanitarian issues,” the department said.

“While this is not an effort sponsored by, or on behalf of, the United States government, we hope his trip contributes to improved humanitarian access.”

“The humanitarian and health needs in Burma are extraordinary,” it said, using Myanmar’s other name.

“We continue to call on the military regime to cease its violence, release those unjustly detained, allow unimpeded humanitarian access, and ensure the safety of health and humanitarian workers.”

Myanmar refugees were apprehended by Thai military personnel in Kanchanaburi province after they crossed the border on Monday amid ongoing violence [Royal Thai Army Handout Photo via AFP]

The former UN envoy and governor of New Mexico announced on Sunday he was heading to Myanmar on a visit that would focus on pandemic support.

“In moments of crisis and instability such as this one, we must ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to those most in need,” he said.

Richardson said his centre – The Richardson Center – has a long history of involvement in Myanmar but did not mention the coup in his trip announcement or detail who he planned to meet while there.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was aware of the mission, said Richardson spokesperson Madeleine Mahony.

Mahony declined to say whether Richardson would also be working for the release of American journalist Danny Fenster who has been jailed in Myanmar since May 24.

Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport as he was about to board a flight to the US.

He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an online magazine based in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.

Fenster was charged with incitement – also known as sedition – for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information. The offence is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Richardson last visited Myanmar in 2018 to advise on the Rohingya crisis. He ended up quitting an international panel set up to work on findings from a previous commission after armed forces were accused of carrying out rapes and killings of Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine state. Myanmar has denied the allegations.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies