(Reuters) – Myanmar’s military junta said on Friday that a protest campaign against its rule was dwindling since people wanted peace, while 18 ambassadors to the country called in a joint statement for the restoration of democracy.
The junta will hold elections within two years and hand over power to the elected government, military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw.
It was the first timeframe the junta has given for elections since it ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1.
Government ministries and banks will resume full operations soon, the spokesman said.
More than 600 people have been killed by security forces cracking down on protests against the coup, according to an activist group. The country has ground to a standstill because of the protest campaign and widespread strikes against military rule.
“The reason of reducing protests is due to cooperation of people who want peace, which we value”, Zaw Min Tun said. “We request people to cooperate with security forces and help them.”
He said the military had recorded 248 deaths and he denied that automatic weapons had been used. Sixteen 16 policemen had also been killed, he said.
In the latest violence, at least four demonstrators were killed by security forces on Friday in the town of Bago, near the main city of Yangon, witnesses and domestic media said.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group has said 614 people, including 48 children, have been killed by security forces since the coup. Over 2,800 were in detention, it said.
“We are humbled by their courage and dignity,” the ambassadors said of the protesters in their statement.
“We stand together to support the hopes and aspirations of all those who believe in a free, just, peaceful and democratic Myanmar. Violence has to stop, all political detainees must be released and democracy must be restored.”
The statement was signed by the ambassadors of the United States, Britain, the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland and several European nations.
“The suggestions from neighboring countries and big countries and powerful people in politics, we respect them,” Zaw Min Tun said. He also accused members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy of arson and said the protest campaign was being financed by foreign money, but gave no details.
He said reports that some members of the international community did not recognize the military government were “fake news”.
“We are cooperating with foreign countries and working together with neighboring countries,” the spokesman said.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Editing by Robert Birsel and Angus MacSwan)