People of Myanmar have right to democracy: UN special envoy

UN Special Envoy on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer (centre) walking with high-level officials following her arrival at Yangon's airport, on Aug 16, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK - The people of Myanmar have the right to democracy and self-determination free from fear, said United Nations (UN) special envoy Noeleen Heyzer during a visit to Myanmar on Wednesday (Aug 17) as armed conflict sparked by last year's military coup continued raging without a clear end.

But this "will only be possible by the goodwill and efforts of all stakeholders in an inclusive process", she said in a statement released late on Wednesday after meeting senior junta officials, including junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.

The statement said her visit "was aimed at communicating in person the pragmatic steps to de-escalate the violence and address the multidimensional crisis".

This was Dr Heyzer's first official visit to the country since she assumed her role as the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for Myanmar in December.

She stressed after meeting the senior general: "My visit is to convey the concern of the United Nations and propose concrete steps needed to reduce the conflict and suffering of the people.

"UN engagement does not in any way confer legitimacy."

Noting the junta's recent executions of pro-democracy activists, Dr Heyzer urged Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to impose a moratorium on all future executions and release detained children.

She conveyed a request by the Australian government for the release of detained Australian economist Sean Turnell, who is being tried for breaching the Official Secrets Act.

She also highlighted the need to deliver humanitarian aid through all channels and "raised the issue of an inclusive forum for humanitarian engagement", according to the statement.

Earlier, she had a meeting with Myanmar junta foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin, during which he "stressed that it is necessary for the United Nations to constructively and pragmatically review its approach in its cooperation with Myanmar", according to a press release issued by his ministry.

UN figures show that more than 1.2 million people are currently displaced, with the majority forced to flee their homes after the coup on Feb 1 last year. Hundreds of armed groups are battling the military junta, which has in turn targeted civilian populations in its bid to douse support for the resistance.

More than 12,000 political prisoners remain behind bars.

These include deposed state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now serving a 17-year sentence in solitary confinement over corruption and other charges widely regarded as spurious.

According to the UN statement released by Dr Heyzer's office, she made a request to meet Ms Suu Kyi.

"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," she 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."

Asean has barred Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing as well as Mr Wunna Maung Lwin from its top meetings by insisting that Myanmar send a "non-political representative".

The junta has responded by not sending any representative, leaving the seat for Myanmar vacant.

Asean foreign ministers said in an Aug 3 joint communique that they were "deeply disappointed by the limited progress in and lack of commitment of the Naypyitaw authorities to the timely and complete implementation of the Five-Point Consensus".

It recommended the Asean leaders gathering at the November summit address the situation.

This consensus calls for the cessation of violence and constructive dialogue among all parties, among other things.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah has called for Asean to engage the National Unity Government (NUG), Myanmar's shadow administration.

The junta, however, has labelled the NUG a terrorist group.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Deputy Minister of Information Zaw Min Tun slammed Asean's stance on Myanmar.

"If a seat representing a country is vacant, then it should not be labelled an Asean summit," he said.

He repeated the junta's constant refrain that Asean was violating its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states.

"What they want is for us to meet and talk with the terrorists," he said.

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