BANGKOK – The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, met Wednesday with the head of its military-installed government and called on him to urgently halt all violence, support a political path back to civilian rule and democracy, and allow the country’s imprisoned former leader Aung San Suu Kyi to return home and to meet with her.
On her first mission to the strife-torn country, Heyzer also reiterated Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ extreme concern about Myanmar’s humanitarian, security, economic and political crisis and reiterated the U.N. chief’s call for the release of all political prisoners. She also urged Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to impose a moratorium on future executions, following the recent executions of four political activists that drew worldwide condemnation.
Heyzer’s statement on her two-day visit was released as she left the country, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said, and she was not able to meet Suu Kyi but hopes they will meet in the future.
Haq said Heyzer and the general had “a good discussion” and the U.N. will see whether her key demands will be carried out. He said the U.N. will “continue to push on those points.”
Going forward, Heyzer’s statement said she and general Hlaing “agreed to engage in frank conversations, focusing on the need for inclusive solutions to a peaceful and democratic Myanmar, reflective of the will of the people.”
State-run MRTV television said Heyzer and Min Aung Hlaing exchanged views on promoting trust and cooperation between Myanmar and the United Nations. It did not provide any details on the talks in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw.
Heyzer’s statement said that in the meeting with the general and his senior advisers she communicated pragmatic steps the military must take to de-escalate conflict and reduce the suffering of the Myanmar people. It called the meeting “part of broader efforts by the United Nations to urgently support an effective and peaceful Myanmar-led political pathway to return to civilian rule based on the will and the needs of the people.”
Myanmar has been wracked by violent unrest since the army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February last year. The army’s takeover prevented Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party from beginning a second term in office.
The takeover was met with massive public opposition, which has since turned into armed resistance that some U.N. experts, including Heyzer’s predecessor, Christine Schraner Burgener, have characterized as civil war. Critics of the military have accused it of carrying out widespread human rights abuses to crush opposition to its rule.
Much of the international community, including Myanmar’s fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, have expressed frustration at the hard line the generals have taken in resisting reform. Myanmar’s military rulers agreed to a five-point ASEAN plan in April 2021 to restore peace and stability to the country, including an immediate halt to violence and a dialogue among all parties. But the military has made little effort to implement the plan.
An earlier statement from Heyzer’s office said she called for “immediate and specific de-escalation steps including ending aerial bombing and the burning of civilian houses and infrastructure.”
Heyzer stressed in the statement as she left Myanmar that “U.N. engagement does not in any way confer legitimacy” on the military government.
“The people of Myanmar have the right to democracy and self-determination free from fear and want, which will only be possible by the good will and efforts of all stakeholders in an inclusive process,” she said.
Heyzer said she urged general Hlaing to implement the U.N. secretary-general’s appeal. She said she also conveyed a request from the Australian government to release Australian economist Sean Turnell, who served as an adviser to Suu Kyi and is being tried with her on a charge of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.
Suu Kyi is being held in prison in Naypyitaw. She has been prosecuted in a string of criminal cases widely seen as politically motivated by the ruling military. The government has refused to allow her to meet with any outsiders, including a special envoy from ASEAN.
“I’m deeply concerned about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s health and well-being in her current situation, and request that she can return home soon,” Heyzer said. “I want to have an opportunity to meet with her as soon as possible, both because I care about her personally and I believe she is a critical stakeholder for my dialogue with all parties concerned.”
Her statement also expressed deep concern about civilians displaced from their homes and called on all parties to facilitate the immediate and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid to all people and to protect and empower women.
In her meeting with the general, the statement said, “she highlighted her continued resolve to act in a bridging rule and leverage her convening power to address the protection needs and suffering of the most vulnerable and to end the conflict.”
Heyzer also told the general she plans to consult the government ahead of her visit to Bangladesh later this month where she plans to visit camps for Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazaar. They host about one million Rohingya and others forcibly displaced from Myanmar, the statement said.
Muslim Rohingya face widespread discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where most are denied citizenship and many other rights. More than 700,000 fled to Bangladesh starting in late August 2017 when the Myanmar military launched a “clearance operation” against them following attacks by a rebel group. The safety situation in Myanmar has worsened following last year’s military takeover.
Heyzer’s statement said she highlighted Myanmar’s responsibility for “conducive conditions” for the Rohingya to return, saying their rights and well-being “are integral to the future of a peaceful and prosperous Myanmar.”
The National Unity Government, the main opposition organization which views itself as a legitimate government of Myanmar, issued a statement after Heyzer arrived Tuesday, saying her visit must be aimed at ending the military’s violence and her talks must reflect the voice of the Myanmar people.
“The special envoy’s visit must be directed at ending the junta’s violence, its weaponization of aid, its persecution of political prisoners, and its impunity. Intensified efforts must also target the multiple junta-induced crises destabilizing the region’s peace and security. Anything short of this would be an appeasement of war criminals,” it said. “Mrs. Heyzer’s consultations must include Myanmar’s ethnic resistance organizations and civil society, and amplify the voices of Myanmar people.”
Lederer reported from the United Nations