UN envoy Noeleen Heyzer makes rare visit to Myanmar

Singaporean sociologist Noeleen Heyzer was appointed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last year. PHOTO: INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES

YANGON (AFP) - The UN's new special envoy for Myanmar began her first trip to the country, a day after a junta court sentenced ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to six more years in jail for corruption.

Dr Noeleen Heyzer "will focus on addressing the deteriorating situation and immediate concerns as well as other priority areas of her mandate," according to a UN statement issued late on Monday (Aug 15).

It did not give details on who she would meet among the junta's top leadership or whether she would seek to meet Ms Suu Kyi.

Junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun told a pro-army media outlet that Dr Heyzer was due to arrive on Wednesday.

“She will meet the country’s leader and other senior ministers,” he said, adding that no request had been made to meet Suu Kyi.

On Monday, Ms Suu Kyi received another prison term in a secretive junta court, taking her total jail time to 17 years.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday (Aug 15) condemned the sentence as “unjust” and called for Ms Suu Kyi’s immediate release.  

“I condemn the unjust sentence of Aung San Suu Kyi to an additional six years of detention,” Mr Borrell wrote on Twitter, calling on the Myanmar regime to “immediately and unconditionally release her”.

He also urged the Asian nation’s military junta to release “all political prisoners, and respect the will of the people”.

Ms Suu Kyi, 77, has already been sentenced to 11 years in jail for corruption, incitement against the military, breaching Covid-19 rules and breaking a telecommunications law.

She was detained after generals overthrew her government in February last year, ending Myanmar’s brief period of democracy.

She has since been hit with a series of charges, including violating the official secrets act, corruption and electoral fraud.

She faces decades in jail if convicted on all counts.

The 2021 coup has sparked widespread protests and unrest in Myanmar and triggered renewed fighting between the government and established ethnic rebel groups

Dr Heyzer is expected to hold meetings in the military-built capital Naypyitaw, according to a diplomatic source who did not give further details.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis led by the UN and the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) regional bloc have made little headway, with the generals refusing to engage with opponents.

Last month the junta stoked renewed international condemnation when it executed Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former lawmaker from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, for offences under anti-terrorism laws.

In response, the UN Security Council - including junta allies Russia and China - issued a rare condemnation of the junta.

Asean, which includes Myanmar, said the executions made a “mockery” of its efforts to achieve peace in the country.

Singaporean sociologist Heyzer was appointed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last year, replacing Swiss diplomat Christine Schraner Burgener.

Ms Schraner Burgener had called for the UN to take "very strong measures" against the military and had been the target of regular broadsides in Myanmar's state-backed media.

Since the coup, the Swiss diplomat had been blocked by the generals from visiting the country, where she had hoped to meet with Ms Suu Kyi.

In December state media reported the junta had closed her office in the country "since the activities of Ms Christine Schraner Burgener have concluded".

It has not yet said whether it will allow Dr Heyzer to open an office.

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