The United Nations has called on Myanmar's military junta to release the nation's de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint after it freed thousands of others who had been detained since a coup in February.

The junta in this gas and oil-producing nation last week freed more than 2000 people, including journalists, held after taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations since the military seized power.

However, Noble Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remains in detention, charged by the military with various criminal offences.

“We reiterate our call for the immediate release of all of those who are arbitrarily detained, and that includes President Win Myint and state councillor Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Eri Kaneko, associate spokesperson for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

“We remain deeply concerned at the continuation of violence and intimidation, including arbitrary arrests, by the security forces.”

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Hundreds of protesters again took to the streets of Myanmar’s commercial capital, Yangon, last Thursday, symbolically setting fire to an army uniform and calling for democracy.

The group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported that more than 6400 people have been arrested since the coup.

The death toll from the military crackdown on protesters is nearing 900, including at least 40 who are believed to have died in custody, according to the UN.

Strong objection

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it “strongly objects” to the numbers presented by the UN.

“The UN is requested not to release one-sided remarks without verification and to verify sensitive information with relevant focal ministries before its release,” the ministry said.

Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in court again on Tuesday, with her lawyers disputing evidence introduced by prosecutors supporting a sedition charge against her.

She also faces other charges including violating coronavirus restrictions during last year’s election campaign.

Although her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in November, giving it a further five years in power, the armed forces alleged electoral fraud and later staged a coup.

If found guilty of sedition, Aung San Suu Kyi could be imprisoned for up to two years. Win Myint is a co-defendant on the sedition charge.

Additional charges, for which Aung San Suu Kyi has yet to be tried, include accepting bribes and violating the Official Secrets Act. Each of these charges could lead to jail terms in excess of 10 years.

The military has said it would hold new general elections within two years, although no date has been announced.

Dragging Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint through the courts is seen by some observers as a ploy to stop them from running for office again.

Bloody skirmishes continue around the country, with more than 20 anti-junta fighters and civilians killed in the central Sagaing region last weekend.

‘Armed terrorists’

Local reports claimed military trucks rolled in and opened fire, but state-run media had a different take on the incident, saying soldiers had defended themselves from “armed terrorists” as they attempted to “stabilise the area”.

The security issues have yet to take any known toll on gas production, most of which comes from four major offshore projects — Yadana, Yetagun, Zawtika and Shwe — and is exported via pipeline to Thailand and China.

However, upstream activities have slowed. South Korea’s Posco is going ahead with the phased expansion of the Shwe field development in offshore blocks A1 and A3, while other players, such as Australia’s Woodside Energy and TotalEnergies of France, have put the brakes on new investments as they monitor the situation.

Fresh sanctions

The US last week imposed fresh sanctions on 22 people, including four ministers, in response to the coup and attacks against the pro-democracy movement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the new sanctions were levied “in response to the brutal campaign of violence perpetrated by the Burmese military regime and to continue imposing costs in connection with the military coup”.

The sanctions are aimed at pressuring the security forces to “immediately restore Burma’s path to democracy”, he said, using the name of the country officially recognised by the US government and preferred by the pro-democracy movement.

Andrea Gacki, director of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said Washington “will continue to impose increasing costs on Burma’s military and promote accountability for those responsible for the military coup and ongoing violence”.