Myanmar junta chief says committed to restoring peace, democracy

In a televised address, coup leader Min Aung Hlaing reiterated the junta's five-step process toward restoring democracy. PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (REUTERS) - Myanmar's junta leader on Monday (Oct 18) defended his military government's actions in a regional peace plan and said it was seeking to restore order, but that its opponents were committing violence, which Asean should take notice of.

In a televised address, coup leader Min Aung Hlaing reiterated the junta's five-step process toward restoring democracy, and said some of the things demanded by a special envoy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) were non-negotiable.

The Five-Point Consensus is a plan that Asean had put forward to the Myanmar junta in April to halt the violence in the country, send humanitarian aid there and put in place a process that would try to facilitate dialogue among all parties concerned.

So far, only the aid portion has been fulfilled.

It was Min Aung Hlaing's first remarks since Asean agreed to sideline him from an upcoming leaders' summit over lack of progress in a peace roadmap.

Min Aung Hlaing, who led the Feb 1 coup that plunged Myanmar into deadly chaos, made no mention of the Asean decision, but suggested the outlawed National Unity Government (NUG) and armed ethnic groups were trying to sabotage the Asean-led peace process.

"More violence happened due to provocations of terrorist groups," Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech on television, where he appeared in civilian attire. "No one cares about their violence, and is only demanding we solve the issue. Asean should work on that."

Asean's current chair Brunei had said a non-political figure from Myanmar would be invited to the Oct 26 to 28 online summit, after no consensus was reached for a political representative to attend it.

Min Aung Hlaing said Myanmar wanted Asean's special envoy, Erywan Yusof, to visit the country as agreed, but some of his demands were non-negotiable. He did not elaborate.

The decision was taken after an emergency meeting on Friday among the bloc's foreign ministers.

The NUG, a broad alliance of anti-coup groups that includes members of Suu Kyi's ousted ruling party, has backed the training and formation of militias called "People's Defence Forces" behind attacks on security forces in several regions of the country.

The NUG recently declared a nationwide rebellion against military rule.

The shadow government on Monday welcomed Asean's exclusion of the junta leader, but said the NUG should be the legitimate representative.

"Asean excluding Min Aung Hlaing is an important step, but we request that they recognise us as the proper representative,"said its spokesman Dr Sasa.

However, he said the NUG would accept inviting a truly neutral alternative Myanmar representative.

Asean's decision was an unusually bold step for the consensus-driven bloc, which traditionally favours a policy of engagement and non-interference.

Brunei, ASEAN's current chair, issued a statement citing a lack of progress on a roadmap that the junta had agreed to with Asean in April.

A spokesman for the military government at the weekend blamed "foreign intervention" for the decision.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, which ended a decade of tentative democracy and economic reform. Thousands of its opponents have been arrested, including Suu Kyi.

Security forces have killed more than 1,100 people, according to activists and the United Nations.

Minutes after Min Aung Hlaing's speech, state television announced that more than 5,600 people arrested or subject to arrest warrants over their roles in anti-coup protests would be freed in an amnesty.

The amnesty was for humanitarian reasons, it said, blaming outlawed opposition groups for stoking the unrest.

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