Anti-coup activists in Myanmar launched protests on Wednesday (Apr 21) calling for the release of those detained by the military ahead of junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing's first foreign trip on Saturday to attend a regional summit to discuss the crisis in Myanmar.
Spokesman Zaw Min Tun said the military commander would attend the leaders' meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta on Saturday, Japanese news magazine Nikkei Asia reported.
Reuters could not reach the spokesman for confirmation.
The Southeast Asian country has been in crisis since the military seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government on Feb 1, with almost daily protests against the coup despite a lethal crackdown by the junta in which hundreds of people have been killed.
ASEAN has been trying to guide fellow member Myanmar out of the bloody turmoil triggered by the coup, but the 10-nation group's principles of consensus and non-interference have restricted its ability to overcome members' divergent views on how to respond to the army's killing of hundreds of civilians.
Myanmar's military has shown little willingness to engage with its neighbours and no sign of wanting to talk to members of the government it ousted, accusing some of them of treason, which is punishable by death.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an activist group, says 738 people have been killed by security forces since the coup and 3,300 people are currently in detention, including 20 who have been sentenced to death.
READ: Commentary: Solution to Myanmar's political crisis lies beyond Aung San Suu Kyi or the military
On Wednesday, people shared photos of themselves on social media wearing blue shirts and holding up a hand with the name of an arrested person written on it.
The shirts are a tribute to pro-democracy activist Win Tin who was imprisoned by the military for 19 years and died on Apr 21, 2014. After his release, he pledged to wear a blue shirt until all political prisoners were freed.
"Please raise your voice and demand the release of all the people who are being unfairly detained under the junta government," protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung said on Facebook.
The junta has released thousands of people from jail since the coup but relatively few have been linked to the protests. Meanwhile, military-backed television broadcaster MWD reported on Tuesday that the home affairs ministry had declared a National Unity Government (NUG) formed by opponents of the junta as unlawful.
Last week, pro-democracy politicians, including ousted members of parliament, announced the formation of NUG that nominally includes Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the coup, protest leaders and leaders of ethnic minority groups.
The NUG says it is the legitimate authority in Myanmar and has requested international recognition and an invitation to the Jakarta meeting.
A grouping of ASEAN lawmakers also said the NUG should be invited.
"ASEAN cannot adequately discuss the situation in Myanmar without hearing from and speaking to the National Unity Government," ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights said in a statement.
On the invitation to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, it said: "ASEAN must make it abundantly clear that he is not there as a representative of the Myanmar people, who totally reject his barbaric junta."
Human Rights Watch said the 10-member bloc should immediately withdraw the invitation to the junta's leader.
"Min Aung Hlaing, who faces international sanctions for his role in military atrocities and the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, should not be welcomed at an intergovernmental gathering to address a crisis he created," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.