04/28/2021, 14.32
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National Unity Government refuses talks with junta until political prisoners are released

by Francis Khoo Thwe

The government-in-exile is seeking recognition from ASEAN and the international community. It says it could pay the salaries of civil servants involved in the civil disobedience movement. Meanwhile, the crackdown continues in Mandalay while casualties mount from fighting with armed Karen, Chin and Kachin groups. Young people are fleeing towns and villages to enlist in ethnic armed groups. The junta has killed so far 755 people and sentenced 79 to death. Some 3,448 people have imprisoned.

AsiaNews) – Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), which was set up after its military seized power in a coup, has made it clear that it will not start talks with the ruling junta unless it first releases all political prisoners, starting with Aung San Suu Kyi.

The NUG, which was established this month by lawmakers along with representatives of ethnic minorities, is pressing for international recognition.

Last weekend, in an attempt to address the Myanmar crisis, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed on a number of points, calling for an end to violence and the start of talks between the parties.

However, the regional grouping did not include the release of political prisoners, mostly MPs and ministers of the ousted democratically-elected government, as well as activists and members of Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NDL).

For NUG Prime Minister Mahn Winn Khaing Thann, “Before any constructive dialogue can take place, [. . .], there must be an unconditional release of political prisoners, including President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Yesterday, the country’s military junta rejected ASEAN's proposal, saying that it would stop the violence only after the country “returns to stability”.

For their part, people continue to protest.  Today, security forces dispersed thousands of anti-coup protesters in Mandalay (pictures 1 and 2). No deaths were reported.

Elsewhere, fighting between Myanmar’s military and armed ethnic groups continues. Tensions are running high in Karen State, on the border with Thailand. Tanks have been deployed in Hakka, a city in Chin State, where residents have been resisting for days.

Casualties were reported in Kachin State, where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) seized some army bases. Another protest against the military dictatorship was held today in Hpakant (pictures 3 and 4).

As civil war looms on the horizon, sniper fire is forcing youths to flee from their towns and villages and many are enlisting and training with armed ethnic groups.

At the same time, the number of deaths and prisoners is growing. According to the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners, since the beginning of the coup d'état, the junta has killed 755 people and sentenced 79 to death. The number of prisoners now stands at 3,448.

At the diplomatic level, the NUG slammed ASEAN for receiving junta leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, in Jakarta where the association is meeting. This is the general’s first trip abroad.

For Myanmar’s parallel government, the visit is a tacit endorsement of the coup d'état and a non-recognition of last November's election, which was overwhelmingly won by the NDL.

As if to bolster its claim to be the country’s legitimate government, the NUG said it is studying ways to pay the salaries of civil servants involved in the civil disobedience movement.

Since they went on strike, civil servants have not been paid, and have been attacked, harassed, humiliated and imprisoned by the military.

The NUG plans to ask the United States to release a US$ 1 billion it froze immediately after the coup. The money, which belongs to the Central Bank of Myanmar, is held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

In an act of civil disobedience, at least half of all civil servants, over 200,000, have gone on strike since the coup. This is negatively impacting the economy controlled by the junta because of poor performance and understaffed government offices.

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