Myanmar's ousted lawmakers say they won't join talks until prisoners are freed

Myanmar’s pro-democracy unity government, which also includes members of the ousted parliament from the military coup, has told the Southeast Asian regional bloc that it will not hold talks until the junta releases all political prisoners.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has tried to find a way for Myanmar out of a bloody crisis sparked by the February 1 coup and has called for an end to violence and talks between all sides.

However, the junta has already refused to accept proposals to resolve the crisis that arose from an ASEAN summit last weekend in which Myanmar Major General Min Aung Hlaing attended, but none from the civilian side.

The pro-democracy government of national unity (NUG) formed by opponents of the military this month said ASEAN should deal with it as the legitimate representative of the people.

“Before any constructive dialogue can take place, however, political prisoners, including President U Win Myint and State Councilor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, must be released unconditionally,” NUG Prime Minister Minister Mahn Winn Khaing Thann said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from senior officials in ASEAN.

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Win Myint, Suu Kyi and others have been arrested since the coup launched by the military when Suu Kyi’s government prepared for a second term following an election in November.

The military said it had to take power because its complaints of election fraud were not handled by an electoral commission, which believed the vote was fair.

Protests for democracy have taken place in cities across the country since the coup. The military used deadly force against the demonstrators, killing more than 750 people, says a group of activists. Reuters is unable to confirm the victims as the junta has restricted media freedoms and journalists are among the many people arrested.

Alerted by the turmoil in one of its members, ASEAN held a meeting with the junta’s leader in the Indonesian capital on Saturday to urge him to end the crisis.

ASEAN has not invited a representative from the overthrown Suu Kyi government.

ASEAN leaders said after the meeting that they had reached a “five-point consensus” on steps to end the violence and promote dialogue between rival sides in Myanmar.

The junta later said it would “carefully consider” ASEAN’s proposals, including appointing an envoy to visit Myanmar “when the situation stabilizes,” provided that ASEAN’s recommendations eased the junta’s own roadmap and served the interests of the country.

Myanmar State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi will be attending Invest Myanmar in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, in 2019.Ann Wang / Reuters file

Activists had previously criticized the plan, saying it helped legitimize the junta and fell far short of their demands.

In particular, the release of Suu Kyi, 75, and other political prisoners was not requested. According to the advocacy group of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, more than 3,400 people were arrested for speaking out against the coup.

The NUG consists largely of displaced MPs, along with politicians representing ethnic minorities and protest leaders who advocate democracy.

Protesters marched in the second city of Mandalay in support of the NUG on Wednesday, the media company Myanmar Now reported.

The coup has also exacerbated old conflicts between the military insurgents and the ethnic minority who have been fighting for greater autonomy in border regions for years.

Fighting between the army and the Karen insurgents in the east near the Thai border and between the army and the Kachin insurgents in the north near the border with China has increased.

There were also clashes between anti-coup activists and security forces in the state of Chin on the border with India.

Karen insurgents captured Myanmar army posts near the Thai border on Tuesday in some of the most violent clashes since the coup, which included military air strikes.

The military launched further air strikes in the area Wednesday, villagers on the Thai side of the border said, but there was no immediate word on the victims.

The Karen and other border ethnic minority forces have supported the largely urban, pro-democracy opponents of the junta.

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