Former UN Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon meets with junta leaders in Myanmar

Visit comes after shadowy anti-junta group assassinates deputy head of Election Commission.
By RFA Burmese
2023.04.24
Former UN Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon meets with junta leaders in Myanmar Myanmar junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing [right] presents a gift to Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General, during their meeting Monday, April 24, 2023, in Naypyidaw.
Military True News Information Team via AP

UPDATED AT 12:26 p.m. ET on 2023-04-25

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made a surprise visit to Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw over the weekend and met with junta chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to discuss the country’s political crisis, according to official media reports.

Ban, currently the deputy chair of The Elders group of retired world leaders, arrived with a delegation on Sunday evening and was greeted at the airport by junta Deputy Minister for Defense Major Gen. Aung Lin Dwe, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Kyaw Myo Htut and other officials, according to military-controlled broadcast channel MRTV.

He met with Min Aung Hlaing on Monday morning to “exchange views on the situation in Myanmar,” junta Deputy Information Minister Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun told reporters following the sit-down.

Ban’s arrival comes as the junta is planning to hold an election despite a nationwide conflict and widespread concerns that such a ballot will be neither free nor fair. In March, the junta dissolved the formerly ruling National League for Democracy – Aung San Suu Kyi’s party – and dozens of other political parties for failing to meet a registration deadline.

On Saturday afternoon, an anti-junta paramilitary group calling itself “For Yangon” shot dead Sai Kyaw Thu, the deputy director of the junta’s Election Commission, who was expected to be promoted to the position of general director.

An official with the group told RFA that Sai Kyaw Thu was killed for his part in disenfranchising the people of Myanmar and acting as a “false witness” in the junta’s prosecution of Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint.

“That's why we eliminated him,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing security concerns. “[The leadership of the junta] might think that they are safe because they reside in Naypyidaw. But they must keep in mind that the day they return to Yangon will be the day they die.”

A video purportedly showing Sai Kyaw Thu’s assassination has been circulating on social media, although RFA was unable to independently confirm its authenticity. The junta’s Ministry of Information confirmed Sai Kyaw Thu’s death, saying he was shot and killed on his way back from taking his wife to a clinic in eastern Yangon’s South Okkalapa township.

‘Positive, friendly’

State media, meanwhile, described the tone of Ban’s meeting with senior junta officers as “positive, friendly, and [held in an] open manner,” without providing any further details.

Present at the meeting were junta Joint-Secretary Lieutenant Gen. Ye Win Oo, Defense Minister General Mya Tun Oo, Foreign Minister Than Swe and ex-ambassador of South Korea to Australia Kim Bong-hyun, it said.

Ban also held a separate meeting with former President Thein Sein, who led Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government from 2011 to 2016, according to Zaw Min Tun, although no details of the meeting were disclosed.

Sources close to the junta told RFA Burmese that Ban had been invited by the military regime.

Attempts by RFA to contact The Elders about Ban’s visit went unanswered on Monday.

However, a statement released Tuesday by the group said the trip aimed to “find a path to an end to violence and establishing a peaceful, democratic, inclusive and legitimate government.”

Ban described the talks as “exploratory” and said he stressed the need to implement a peace plan put forward by ASEAN, the 10-member Southeast Asian grouping of which Myanmar is a member.

“ASEAN member states and the wider international community need to show unity and resolve in their commitment to peace and democracy in Myanmar, which is a source of serious international concern,” the statement quoted Ban as saying. “With patient determination, I believe a way forward can be found out of the current crisis. The military must take the first steps."

Moe Zaw Oo, deputy foreign minister of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government told RFA that Ban should engage with all stakeholders if he wants to help with the Myanmar issue.

"Visiting the junta at a time when it has been committing serious violent crimes is, in a way, recognizing its legitimacy,” he said. “He should not visit without knowing for sure whether his trip will benefit the people."

ENG_BUR_BanVisit_04242023.2.jpg
Myanmar junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing [center right] talks with Ban Ki Moon, former U.N Secretary-General, during their meeting Monday, April 24, 2023, in Naypyidaw, Myanmar. Credit: Military True News Information Team via AP

Moe Zaw Oo said Ban is living in “a fantasy” if he thinks that the military will end violence in the country “just by hearing a sermon on peace.”

“You have to carefully consider how to stop the violence, how to pressure [the military], and how to coordinate with countries and individuals who can really implement that pressure,” he said.

Kyaw Zaw, spokesman for Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government, said that Ban must not allow himself to become its propaganda tool for the junta.

“The military junta is not going to stop its violence and atrocities," he said. "I'm sure they are going to use this meeting in their propaganda to deceive the international community."

Pro-democracy Activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a member of the civil society coalition Action Committee for Democracy Development, said in a tweet that “talking with [the junta] or democratic leaders alone won't solve the issue.”

“We all must address the cessation of violence in a way that leads to justice and accountability,” he said.

‘Resolving problems’ with opposition

Political analyst Ye Tun said Monday it is likely the junta invited Ban to “resolve problems” between the military and the shadow National Unity Government, People’s Defense Force paramilitary group, and the country’s ethnic armed organizations.

“Indonesia [as the 2023 chair of ASEAN] is also handling the problems between the NUG, PDF, EAOs and the [junta],” he said. “But in order to achieve a significant result, I think, the regime invited Ban Ki-moon to seek his assistance.”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which operates largely by consensus, has been widely criticized for failing to take strong action against the junta.

The military has carried on with attacks amid nationwide turmoil in the two years since Min Aung Hlaing vowed to follow a five-point peace framework that ASEAN leaders agreed to during an April 2021 emergency summit in the aftermath of the Myanmar military’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’etat. Among its provisions, the five-point consensus called for an end to violence, dialogue with all parties and humanitarian assistance.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, which provoked mass protests and armed resistance. More than 3,400 civilians have been killed by the military since then, according to Thailand’s Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (Burma).

Ban was notably prevented from meeting with jailed leader of the National League for Democracy Aung San Suu Kyi, who was sidelined as Myanmar’s State Counselor by the takeover and is also a member of The Elders.

Junta courts found the 78-year-old Suu Kyi, who was detained shortly after the coup, guilty of corruption charges and the violation of election and state secrets laws in December 2022. She faces a total of 33 years in jail for 19 cases, and is being held in solitary confinement at a prison in Naypyidaw. Suu Kyi’s supporters say the charges were politically motivated.

Sai Kyi Zin Soe, a political analyst, said that by only meeting with the junta, Ban may have made it more difficult to find a resolution to Myanmar's political crisis.

“In my opinion, his meeting with just one side of the political spectrum could lead to complications regarding the path that the international community wants Myanmar to take and could make it more difficult to implement an all-inclusive dialogue later.”

Ban’s visit was scheduled by The Elders and he was expected to depart Myanmar on Monday evening, the Associated Press reported, citing a South Korean Embassy official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The AP said Ban tried to make a diplomatic visit to Myanmar after the coup, aiming to de-escalate the conflict and foster dialogue, but was told by authorities that it was inconvenient at the time.

‘First mission’

For Yangon, the group that took responsibility for the killing of the Election Commission official, was formed in November 2021, a member told RFA, although it has been active under other names. He described it as “a group of young people who don't accept the coup.”

“We saw and experienced the inhumane and brutal crackdowns by the terrorist junta while protesting and fighting in the streets during the coup, and decided to join the armed struggle,” he said.

The official called the assassination of Sai Kyaw Thu For Yangon’s “first mission,” adding that the group had spent nearly six months gathering intelligence in the plot.

Translated by Htin Aung Kyaw and Myo Min Aung. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

This story has been updated to include a statement by The Elders, as well as comments from the NUG spokesman and political analysts.

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