In the face of military violence, solidarity between minority ethnic groups and Bamar-majority forces is growing.
Thailand has announced that the head of Myanmar’s military government, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, will attend an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Indonesia next week – his first known foreign trip since he seized power in a coup on February 1.
Myanmar has been in upheaval since the military removed an elected government led by civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Security forces have killed 728 pro-democracy protesters, according to an activist group, in an attempt to crush nationwide anti-coup protests.
In the latest violence, security forces shot and killed two protesters in the ruby-mining town of Mogok, a resident told Reuters news agency, while several small bombs went off in the largest city of Yangon, wounding several people, media outlets reported.
Myanmar’s neighbours have been trying to encourage talks between the military rulers and the removed government, but the army has shown little willingness to engage.
On Saturday, Thai foreign ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said several leaders of the 10 ASEAN countries, including Min Aung Hlaing, had confirmed they would attend the April 24 meeting in Jakarta.
Meanwhile, the military government released 23,184 prisoners from jails across the country on Saturday under a New Year amnesty, the Prisons Department said, though few, if any, democracy activists arrested since the coup were thought to be among them.
Saturday is the first day of Myanmar’s New Year and the last day of a five-day holiday that is usually marked with visits to Buddhist temples and raucous water-throwing and partying in the streets.
Aung San Suu Kyi is among 3,141 people arrested in connection with the coup, according to a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). The Nobel Peace Prize laureate faces various charges, including violating an official secrets act, that could see her jailed for 14 years. Her lawyers reject the charges.
“These (freed) detainees are mostly from before February 1 but there are also some who were imprisoned afterwards,” said Prisons Department spokesman Kyaw Tun Oo. He said he had no details of the offences for which they had been jailed.
Among those released were 137 foreigners, who would be deported, state television said. It gave no details.
The AAPP said the military continued to seek 832 people in connection with the protests. Among them are more than 200 people, including several actors, singers and internet celebrities, who have spoken out against the coup and are wanted on a charge of encouraging dissent in the armed forces, which can carry a three-year jail term.
State media announced the names of another 40 wanted people, 20 of them doctors, on Saturday.
The February 1 coup triggered a massive uprising, bringing hundreds of thousands of protesters to the streets to demand a return to democracy, while civil servants have boycotted work in a bid to shutter the military government’s administration.
The military power grab has also triggered clashes between the army and ethnic minority armed groups in the country’s north and east.
The military has defended its coup by alleging that the result of November’s election was fraudulent, although the election commission dismissed the objections.
The international community has largely condemned the generals for use of force against unarmed civilians – imposing targeted sanctions against top military brass, their families and army-linked businesses.