Myanmar's NUG rejects talks till prisoners freed

It says Asean should engage pro-democracy group as people's legitimate representative

Demonstrators flashing the three-finger salute during an anti-military coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, yesterday. Pro-democracy protests have taken place in cities and towns across the country since the Feb 1 military coup. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Demonstrators flashing the three-finger salute during an anti-military coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, yesterday. Pro-democracy protests have taken place in cities and towns across the country since the Feb 1 military coup. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

YANGON • Myanmar's pro-democracy unity government, formed to oppose the military junta that seized power nearly three months ago, yesterday ruled out talks on the crisis until all political prisoners are released.

The 10-member Asean has been trying to find a path for Myanmar out of the bloody turmoil that followed the Feb 1 coup and has called for an end to violence and talks between all sides.

But the junta has already declined to accept proposals to resolve the crisis that emerged from an Asean summit last weekend that was attended by Myanmar's Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, while no one from the civilian side was invited.

The pro-democracy National Unity Government (NUG), which includes members of Parliament ousted by the coup, said South-east Asia's regional bloc should be engaging with it as the legitimate representative of the people.

"Before any constructive dialogue can take place, however, there must be an unconditional release of political prisoners, including President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," the NUG prime minister Mahn Winn Khaing Thann said in a statement. There was no immediate comment from any senior officials in Asean.

Mr Win Myint, Ms Suu Kyi and others have been detained since the coup, which the military launched as Ms Suu Kyi's government was preparing for a second term after sweeping a November election.

The military said it had to seize power because its complaints of fraud in the election were not being addressed by an election commission that deemed the vote fair.

Pro-democracy protests have taken place in cities and towns across the country since the coup.

The military has cracked down with lethal force on the protesters, killing more than 750 people, an activist group said.

Protesters marched in support of the NUG in the second city of Mandalay yesterday, media outlet Myanmar Now reported. There was no report of violence.

Alarmed by the turmoil in one of its members, Asean held a meeting last Saturday in the Indonesian capital with the leader of the junta in a bid to press him to end the crisis.

Asean leaders said after the meeting they had reached a "five-point consensus" on steps to end violence and promote dialogue between the rival Myanmar sides.

The junta later said it would give "careful consideration" to Asean's suggestions, which included appointing an envoy to visit Myanmar, "when the situation returns to stability" and provided that Asean's recommendations facilitated the junta's own road map and served the country's interests.

Myanmar's military launched air assaults for the second day in a row into rebel-held territory after gunfire was heard from neighbouring Thailand, a Thai official said yesterday, as fighting escalates along the border.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of United States senators urged the Biden administration to slap more sanctions on the military junta in Myanmar, including choking revenues to a state energy company, in response to its coup and violent crackdown on protesters.

Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, and Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, and four others urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a letter to "explore new avenues to support the people of Burma in their ongoing struggle for democracy in the face of escalating crimes against humanity".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2021, with the headline 'Myanmar's NUG rejects talks till prisoners freed'. Subscribe