Myanmar to release 5,600 prisoners held for anti-junta protests

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It follows the junta’s announcement on Monday that it would free more than 5,600 people arrested for protesting military rule since the coup in February. The junta said the released prisoners would be required to sign a document pledging not to commit any acts of violence against the country.

Since the coup, Myanmar’s security forces have arrested more than 9,000 people, of whom an estimated 7,355 are still in custody, according to the non-profit group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

The Southeast Asian country plunged into chaos after the coup, with daily protests raging for months and insurgency erupting in border areas. A bloody crackdown led to the detention of thousands of people, as well as widespread reports of torture.
Also on Monday, junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing criticized the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which last week said it would exclude them from an upcoming meeting of the regional bloc. Instead, a “non-political” person from Myanmar will be invited to the ASEAN summit next week, the group said.
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In a statement, the current ASEAN president, Brunei, said there had been “insufficient progress” on a roadmap to restore peace in Myanmar, adding that the grouping would “give place for Myanmar to restore its internal affairs and return to normalcy”. “

In response, Min Aung Huling blamed Myanmar’s opposition National Unity government and various ethnic armed groups for the ongoing violence, and said ASEAN should have targeted them rather than the junta.


“Provocations by terrorist groups led to more violence,” Min Aung Huling said in a speech on Monday. “No one cares about their violence and is only demanding that we resolve the issue. ASEAN should work on that.”

The comments on state television are Min Aung Huling’s first remarks since the ASEAN announcement.

Shortly after, AAPP said The junta’s decision to release the prisoners was “not a coincidence” and only “a form of distraction to foreign governments” in the wake of the ASEAN decision.
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“The junta will continue to refuse to be transparent about individuals released and those in custody,” AAPP said in a statement. “The ‘protesters’ issued were exercising the fundamental right of free assembly against an illegitimate coup attempt.”

The organization calls on the junta to release all political prisoners, including Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, He is facing multiple charges and has been under house arrest since February.

Captain Nye Thuta, a former military officer now fighting the regime, also claimed that the junta only released prisoners because Min Aung Huling had been “kicked out of the ASEAN summit.”

“Releasing the prisoners is just to reduce international pressure and not with good intentions for the people or the nation,” he said, urging “immediate handing over of power to the people”.

UN Special Envoy Tom Andrews welcomed the release of some prisoners, but said it was “outrageous” that they were detained in the first place.

“The public is releasing political prisoners in Myanmar not because of change of heart, but because of pressure,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Min Aung Huling declared himself prime minister of a newly formed caretaker government in August, promising to hold new elections within two years and work with a special envoy nominated by ASEAN.

Wayne Chang, Cape Diamond and Hannah Ritchie contributed to this report. Additional reporting by Reuters.


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