| 20 April 2024, Saturday |

Protesters hold ‘blue shirt’ rally in Myanmar

Protesters have taken to the streets in Myanmar in blue shirts to demand the release of those detained during weeks of a military crackdown on protests against the junta rule.

People marched in blue shirts on Wednesday, while holding up a hand with the name of an arrested person written on the palm.

“Please raise your voice and demand the release of all the people who are being unfairly detained under the junta government,” said protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung.

The “blue shirt” rally was held in tribute to activist Win Tin, who had been imprisoned by the military for 19 years. After his release, he pledged to wear a blue shirt until all political prisoners were freed. He died six years ago.

The military regime, which took power in a coup on February 1, has so far detained thousands of people, including de facto leader Aung Sung Suu Kyi and several other political leaders.

After the coup, the junta stepped up its use of lethal force to quash mass demonstrations against the military rule.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an activist group, says 738 people have been killed by security forces and 3,300 people are currently in detention.

Of those in detention, 20 have been sentenced to death.

A United Nations (UN) rights envoy said on Wednesday that the military crackdown had led to the displacement of a quarter of a million people.

“Horrified to learn that… the junta’s attacks have already left nearly a quarter (of a) million Myanmar people displaced, according to sources,” UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews said in a tweet.

He urged the international community to “act immediately to address this humanitarian catastrophe.”

A Christian aid group, Free Burma Rangers, estimated last week that at least 24,000 people were displaced in the northern Karen State, as the junta intensified its military ground attacks and airstrikes earlier in the month.

A spokesman for the Karen National Union (KNU) said on Wednesday that more than 2,000 Karen people had now crossed Myanmar’s border into Thailand and thousands more had been internally displaced.

The KNU is one of the largest armed groups that operate along the eastern border with Thailand.

Amid mounting violence in the country, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is set to hold a summit to discuss the crisis in Indonesia on Saturday.

Myanmar’s coup leader Min Aung Hlaing is also expected to attend.

His expected involvement in the summit has angered activists and human rights groups, who say that would be “legitimizing the military” rule in Myanmar.

“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,” Human Rights Watch’s Brad Adams said.

According to monitoring group Reporting ASEAN, the junta has so far arrested 70 reporters, 38 of whole are still in detention.

The military, meanwhile, declared a National Unity Government (NUG) formed by opponents of the junta as unlawful.

Last week, a group of politicians, including ousted members of parliament, announced the formation of the NUG, which nominally includes Suu Kyi.