Since the coup, Myanmar’s security forces have arrested more than 9,000 people, of whom an estimated 7,355 are still in detention, according to non-profit group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
In a statement, the current ASEAN chair, Brunei, said there had been “insufficient progress” on a roadmap to restore peace in Myanmar, adding the group would “give space to Myanmar to restore its internal affairs and return to normalcy.”
In response, Min Aung Hlaing blamed Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government and various ethnic armed groups for the ongoing violence, and said ASEAN should have targeted them instead of the junta.
“More violence happened due to the provocations of terrorist groups,” Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech Monday. “No one cares about their violence and is only demanding we solve the issue. ASEAN should work on that.”
The comments, made on state television, are Min Aung Hlaing’s first remarks since ASEAN’s announcement.
“The junta will continue to refuse being transparent about the individual persons released, and who remains detained,” AAPP said in a statement. “The released ‘demonstrators’ were practicing the fundamental right to free assembly against an illegitimate coup attempt.”
Capt. Nyi Thuta, a former military officer now fighting the regime, also claimed the junta only released the prisoners because Min Aung Hlaing “was kicked out of the ASEAN summit.”
“Releasing the prisoners is just to ease international pressure, not out of good intention for the people or the nation,” he said, urging the junta to “immediately hand over power to the people.”
UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews welcomed the release of some prisoners, but said it was “outrageous” they had been detained in the first place.
“The junta is releasing political prisoners in Myanmar not because of a change of heart, but because of pressure,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter.
Min Aung Hlaing declared himself Prime Minister of a newly formed caretaker government in August, promising to hold new elections within two years and work with a special envoy named by ASEAN.
Wayne Chang, Cape Diamond and Hannah Ritchie contributed to this report. Additional reporting by Reuters.