Myanmar’s military government said Saturday it released more than 23,000 prisoners in observance of the country’s traditional New Year holiday and that the country’s new junta chief would take his first foreign trip since seizing power.
The Prisons Department said 23,184 prisoners were pardoned and freed from jails across the country under a New Year amnesty program, but few, if any, of the anti-coup activists who were arrested are believed to be among them.
State broadcaster MRTV reported that the junta’s chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, pardoned the prisoners, which included 137 foreigners, who would be deported.
The prisoner release announcement came as daily protests continue against the ouster of the elected government of former de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and the government’s use of deadly force against them.
Security forces fatally shot two protesters Saturday in the central ruby-mining city of Mogok, according to Reuters, while local media outlets reported several small bombs were detonated in the country’s largest city of Yangon.
In a campaign to quell the protests, the government has killed at least 728 coup protesters and bystanders since the takeover, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which tracks casualties and arrests.
Amid the upheaval, Thailand announced Saturday that Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing would attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Indonesia on April 24, his first known trip abroad since he seized power.
Myanmar’s neighbors have been trying to jump start talks between the junta and Suu Kyi’s ousted government, but the junta has not indicated a willingness to participate.
In addition to Min Aung Hlaing, several of the 10 ASEAN leaders have said they would attend the meeting, the Thai foreign ministry said.
The junta did not immediately comment on Thailand’s announcement.
Ousted members of parliament, pro-democracy politicians, and ethnic minorities announced the formation Friday of the National Unity Government (NUG), which is calling for global recognition of legitimate authority.
The NUG also requested an invitation to attend the ASEAN meeting in place of junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.
When the military removed Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy government, it detained Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and it imposed martial law across Myanmar.
Suu Kyi led Myanmar since its first open democratic election in 2015, but Myanmar's military contested last November's election results, claiming widespread electoral fraud, largely without evidence.