Myanmar’s junta announced an amnesty for 7,000 prisoners to mark Independence Day on Wednesday following a show of force in the capital, days after increasing democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi‘s jail term to 33 years.
Swaths of the Southeast Asian country have been engulfed by fighting between junta troops and anti-coup rebels since the military seized power almost two years ago.
The junta, which recently wrapped up a series of closed-court trials of Suu Kyi, is preparing for fresh elections later this year that the United States has said would be a “sham.”
Tanks, missile launchers, and armored cars rolled through the dawn air to a parade ground in the capital Naypyidaw, AFP correspondents said, kicking off a military display marking 75 years since Myanmar gained independence from Britain.
Civil servants and high school students followed the troops, accompanied by a military band as 750 “peace” doves were released to mark the occasion, according to state media.
Later in the day, the junta announced it would free 7,012 prisoners to mark the anniversary, though it did not specify whether the amnesty would include those jailed as part of a crackdown on dissent.
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun did not respond to an AFP request for comment on whether Suu Kyi would be moved from her prison to house arrest as part of the amnesty.
In a speech to assembled troops, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing accused unidentified countries of “intervening in Myanmar’s internal affairs” since the February 2021 coup.
The military was meeting with political parties for discussions on “the proportional representation electoral system,” he said, without giving further details.
Analysts say the junta may scrap the first-past-the-post system that saw Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy win sweeping majorities in 2020 and 2015.
Myanmar declared independence from British colonial rule on January 4, 1948, after a long fight championed by General Aung San, ousted civilian leader Suu Kyi’s father.
The junta has handed out hundreds of awards and medals to its supporters in the run-up to the event, including to a firebrand monk known for his role in stirring up religious hatred in Myanmar.
Wirathu — dubbed “The Buddhist bin Laden” by Time Magazine in 2013 following deadly communal riots — was awarded the title of “Thiri Pyanchi” on Tuesday, for “outstanding work for the good of the Union of Myanmar.”
Independence Day is normally marked with festive street games, marches, and gatherings in public parks and spaces.
But celebrations of public holidays have been largely muted since the putsch as people stay home in protest against the junta.
AFP correspondents said there was an increased security presence in the commercial hub Yangon, which has been hit by a string of bomb attacks in recent months.
The US embassy warned of “potential increases in attacks, targeted shootings, or explosions” on Wednesday.
Thanks @SecBlinken for the US support for freedom and inclusive democracy. #Myanmar freedom fighters deserve concrete support from intl' community to eradicate brutal military dictatorship and end atrocities. @StateDept @StateDeptSpox @USEmbassyBurma #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar pic.twitter.com/YDxZAEMdtV
— Spokesperson, NUG President Office (@NUGPressSPOX) January 3, 2023
Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, marked the day by sending “sincere greetings,” adding that he anticipated the “further development” of relations, according to state-run newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar.
Russia is a major ally and arms supplier of the isolated junta, which has said Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine almost a year ago was “justified.”
Myanmar’s military has made unsubstantiated allegations of massive voter fraud during elections in November 2020, which were won resoundingly by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, as a reason for its coup.
International observers said at the time the polls were largely free and fair.