MPs are released from house arrest at compounds in Nay Pyi Taw on February 2, under the patrol of Tatmadaw soldiers. (Frontier)

MPs told to leave but Aung San Suu Kyi, Win Myint remain in custody

The Tatmadaw is yet to comment on the whereabouts of the state counsellor and president, who are said to be under house arrest in Nay Pyi Taw, as chief ministers and others detained early on Monday have been released.

By FRONTIER

The Tatmadaw has continued to release more people detained in Monday’s coup, telling all remaining lawmakers in the Nay Pyi Taw municipal guesthouse this morning to return home within 24 hours, after earlier releasing state and region chief ministers.

The Tatmadaw remains tight-lipped on the whereabouts of senior National League for Democracy leaders who have been detained, including President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military seized power in the early hours of Monday morning, quickly installing Vice President U Myint Swe as acting president, who then handed all executive, legislative and judicial authority to Tatmadaw chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

It detained scores of national and regional ministers and lawmakers, along with a handful of members of civil society.

About 4:30pm yesterday, military officers informed lawmakers in Nay Pyi Taw that they could leave the municipal guesthouse where they had been kept under effective house arrest since early Monday morning.

That morning, they had been due to attend the opening session of the new parliament chosen in the November 8 election. The NLD won the vote in a landslide, delivering another humiliating defeat to the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party, which then joined with the Tatmadaw to make unproven claims of widespread fraud – the pretext for Monday’s coup.

Family members and friends gathered at the guesthouse in the evening to collect the MPs, but the NLD representatives, who form the majority, resolved to wait until Saturday to go home. However, at 10am on Wednesday the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs ordered them to leave the premises within 24 hours, NLD lawmaker and Central Executive Committee member U Aung Kyi Nyunt told Frontier.

Almost 400 NLD lawmakers remain in the guesthouse, along with a smaller number of MPs from other parties.

U Tin Tun Naing, the Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Seikgyikanaungto in Yangon Region, said he hoped the public would stand with the NLD representatives. “People will be shaken because our leaders have been arrested. I believe that the party will give instructions. We urge the people to continue to work with us in accordance with these statements,” the lower house MP said.

Among the other lawmakers still at the guesthouse are those from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, which won 15 seats in the national parliament. Sai Thiha Kyaw, the Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Mongyai in Shan State, said he would continue to work for the people.

Speaking to Frontier before their release, MPs said they did not sleep on Monday night because of the possibility that they might be arrested.

“Many military vehicles were waiting outside [the guest house compound on Monday] night; we were ready to be arrested but nothing happened,” Pyithu Hluttaw MP Daw Khin San Hlaing (NLD, Pale) told Frontier.

Chief ministers freed

The Tatmadaw has already released many others detained on Monday morning, including a number of chief ministers, state and regional MPs and government officials.

Among them was Kayin State Chief Minister Nang Khin Htwe Myint, who is also an NLD central executive committee member.

She told Frontier that she was taken to a guesthouse in a Tatmadaw cantonment in the state capital, Hpa-an, where the commander read her the statement issued by the military announcing its seizure of power and decision to declare a state of emergency for a year.

Khin Htwe Myint told Frontier that when the commander said the Tatmadaw had seized power because of voting fraud in the election, she told him the accusation was “baseless”.

“We talked for an hour,” she said, adding that her only request was to be taken home.

The guesthouse was comfortable but she was unable to contact leaders or members of the National League for Democracy.

Khin Htwe Myint said that early on Tuesday she was sent back to her official residence to pack her possessions before returning to her personal home.

Asked for her views on the coup and where it left the NLD, she said the NLD had “overcome worse” in the past.

“I hope that we can also overcome this challenge,” she said. “The Myanmar people are behind us.”

Tanintharyi Region Chief Minister U Myint Maung, also of the NLD, was arrested around 4am Monday and taken to Military Operations Command No. 8 in Dawei, the regional capital. Detained in the army cantonment, without internet, he learned about the coup while watching TV.

“They told me to stay in a room. I didn’t know what was happening – they didn’t allow me to take my phone. But I had a television in the room at the military cantonment and the [Tatmadaw owned] Myawaddy channel was broadcasting,” he told Frontier. “At around 9am I learned that there was a military coup taking place.”

He said he was comfortable and well fed, and was kept in a compound that also held the speaker of the Tanintharyi Region Hluttaw and two regional ministers. At 8:30am on Tuesday, he said the deputy regional commander came to say he could return home, but that he should not cause instability by inciting protest.

Myint Maung was taken back to his home in Dawei, but he said his movement remains severely restricted there.

I can’t go anywhere. Security is very tight,” he said. “Inside the home, policemen are in charge. Outside of the home, the military is in charge.”

“I feel sorry for the country and the people,” he added. “Under our civilian government, reforms were gaining momentum. We saw that our country had the potential to grow.”

“This will harm our country,” he said of the coup. “People voted for our party but unfortunately we can’t serve them now.”

He said he will continue to follow any orders he receives from party officials.

Some state and region ministers spent only a brief period in military custody. Bago Region Minister for Karen Ethnic Affairs Naw Pwal Say, also of the NLD, said she knew there had been a coup when she answered a knock on her door at 4am on Monday and opened it to a group of Tatmadaw personnel.

“They were polite but said little other than telling me to leave my phone at home,” she told Frontier.

She was taken to a government housing compound and held together with several others, including the regional chief justice and attorney general.

“We were aware of the situation but we didn’t talk. There were many vehicles and soldiers around. They gave us breakfast – it even included coffee and cakes,” she said.

Pwal Say said the Tatmadaw personnel barely spoke to the detainees. She was “politely” taken home with the others at about noon.

In Nay Pyi Taw, meanwhile, several ministers posted messages farewelling their staff, including Minister for Health Dr Myint Htwe and Minister for the Union Government Office U Min Thu.

‘We have no information’

Several senior government officials apparently remain under house arrest, however, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

A member of the NLD’s information team, U Kyi Toe, posted on his social media account that Win Myint, Aung San Suu Kyi, members of the government and the chair of the Nay Pyi Taw Council had been detained at their official residences in Nay Pyi Taw.

He said Aung San Suu Kyi had been seen taking walks in the compound of the residence allocated to her in her capacity as foreign minister.

Kyi Toe posted Tuesday that police and soldiers continued to guard the Nay Pyi Taw guest houses where government leaders and ministers remained.

He said he and NLD patron U Win Htein have been staying at the NLD’s Nay Pyi Taw office, which has been allowed to remain open.

However, senior NLD members told Frontier they could not confirm the whereabouts of the party’s leaders.

“I saw Ko Kyi Toe’s information but I don’t know how he obtained it. We have had no contact with the leaders and we do not know where they area,” Aung Kyi Nyunt said.

Aung Kyi Nyunt said some state and regional party officials had been arrested and questioned, and some party offices had been raided.

“There have been cases of party property being confiscated and party flags and signs being forcibly removed,” Aung Kyi Nyunt told Frontier.

Aung Kyi Nyunt said that in some places NLD supporters had come under pressure from the local authorities to remove party flags.

He said the purpose of a statement released by the NLD central executive committee on Tuesday morning – which made three demands of Min Aung Hlaing’s new military regime, including to respect the results of the November election – was to focus on the people.

“We want to stand together on the path that will benefit the country and the people,” he said.

Asked about the party’s plan for responding to the coup, he said, “We will act according to what happens next; it is difficult now to talk about our future plans.”

Aung Kyi Nyunt said NLD MPs did not fear being arrested because they had an indomitable spirit, but were angry about the seizure of power.

“However, we are trying to control our emotions and remain calm for the stability of the country,” he said.

He said Min Aung Hlaing should recognise the result of the election and allow the hluttaw to convene in accordance with the constitution, and in the interests of the people and the state.

New cabinet, old faces

In a reshuffle announced late on Monday, Min Aung Hlaing appointed 11 ministers at 12 ministries and terminated the positions of 24 deputy ministers. No changes have occurred yet at the remaining 12 ministries.

The first appointments include a few familiar faces from the former Union Solidarity and Development Party government, including ex-Tatmadaw officers U Wunna Maung Lwin, who returns to his role as foreign minister, and U Win Shein, who will take on the planning, finance and industry portfolio. Meanwhile, a former adviser to ex-president U Thein Sein, ex-Tatmadaw officer U Ko Ko Hlaing, has been brought in to replace U Kyaw Tin as the minister for international cooperation.

Min Aung Hlaing also replaced two of the three cabinet positions that he already controlled under the constitution. General Mya Tun Oo, the current third-ranking military officer, was appointed to defence, while Lieutenant-General Tun Tun Naung has taken over from Lieutenant-General Ye Aung as minister for border affairs. Lieutenant-General Soe Htut retains his position as home affairs minister and also takes on the union government office ministry.

Meanwhile, a few deputy ministers from the ousted NLD government have taken over from their deposed bosses, including U Myint Kyaing at the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population and U Aung Naing Oo from the Ministry for Investment and Foreign Economic Relations. Health ministry permanent secretary Dr Thet Khaing Win has taken over from Dr Myint Htwe, while a long-retired Ministry of Information director general, U Chit Naing – a vice chairman of the Myanmar Writers Association who goes by the pen name Chit Naing (Psychology) – has taken over from U Pe Myint. U Ko Ko has been appointed the minister for religious affairs and culture.

An official at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation told Frontier that the minister, Dr Aung Thu, did not come to work on Tuesday and the reason for his absence was not known. Aung Thu is not among the ministers who have been replaced, but the position of deputy minister U Hla Kyaw was terminated.

Despite all the terminations and new appointments, for the most part government ministries in Nay Pyi Taw were operating normally on Tuesday.

A senior bureaucrat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was unconcerned about the appointment of Wunna Maung Lwin as foreign minister because she had worked with him under the Thein Sein government and the previous military regime.

“However, some new staff are concerned about the situation,” she told Frontier.

A senior official at the Ministry of Information said all staff had reported to work but had been forbidden from handling any documents. “We need to be in the office, but we have nothing to do,” he said.

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