BANGKOK (AP) — Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday urged Myanmar’s ruling military to take the initiative in finding a way out of the country’s violent political crisis, including releasing political detainees, after a surprise meeting with the army leader who seized power two years ago.
Ban met Monday in the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw with the leader of the military government, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, and other top officials. His mission was made on behalf of a group of elder statesmen that engages in peacemaking and human rights initiatives around the world.
Ban is the deputy chair of the group, which calls itself The Elders.
A statement released Tuesday by the group quoted Ban saying “I came to Myanmar to urge the military to adopt an immediate cessation of violence, and start constructive dialogue among all parties concerned.” He described his talks as “exploratory.”
“With patient determination, I believe a way forward can be found out of the current crisis. The military must take the first steps,” he said.
The statement said Ban, who flew to Bangkok from Naypyitaw Monday night, in his talks stressed the need to implement a peace plan by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations — ASEAN — and a United Nations resolution to stop the violence between the military and the pro-democracy resistance forces following the army’s 2021 ouster of the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
“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,” Ban was quoted as saying.
The statement also said Ban “supported the international community’s calls for the immediate release by the Myanmar military of all arbitrarily detained prisoners, for constructive dialogue, and for utmost restraint from all parties.”
The 77-year-old Suu Kyi was imprisoned for 33 years after the takeover on charges widely seen as being trumped up by the military to keep her from playing an active role in politics. Her trials were held behind closed doors, and the military has turned down requests from U.N. officials, foreign diplomats and other interested parties to see her.
Myanmar has been wracked by violence since the army’s takeover, which 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 security forces quashed with deadly force, in turn triggering widespread armed resistance.
Myanmar’s military government has spurned previous outside initiatives calling for negotiations as an infringement on Myanmar’s sovereignty, and generally describes the pro-democracy opposition as terrorists.
The Elders’ statement said Ban warned that elections promised by the military must be held only under free and fair conditions.
Holding elections under current conditions risks further violence and division, and the results not being recognized by the people of Myanmar, ASEAN and the wider international community, it said.
State television MRTV reported Monday night that Ban and Min Aung Hlaing exchanged views on the situation in Myanmar in a “friendly, positive and open discussion.” It did not report details of the meeting, which it said was also attended by the ministers of defense and foreign affairs.
The Elders statement did not say if Ban had made contact with Myanmar’s main opposition group, the National Unity Government — known as NUG — which styles itself as the country’s legitimate administrative body.
Nay Phone Latt, an NUG spokesperson, told The Associated Press international leaders should know their hands will be stained with blood when they shake hands with the leader of the “terrorist army,” referring to Ban Ki-Moon’s meeting on Monday.
“If they want to solve the problem of Myanmar, it is important not to ignore the will of the people of Myanmar,” Nay Phone Latt said.
With little progress seen from previous peacemaking efforts, experts were pessimistic about Ban’s initiative.
“Without any concrete outcome, it’s hard to see the value of this visit at this time. There may be more going on behind the scenes, but from the tone of the statement, it doesn’t seem like it,” Richard Horsey, a senior adviser to the Brussels-headquartered Crisis Group think tank, told AP.
“And the prospects of a negotiated settlement in Myanmar are in any case slim – this is not a context where throwing another diplomat at the problem is likely to bring dividends.”
Ban has a long history of involvement with Myanmar. While U.N. secretary-general from 2007 to 2016, Ban went to Myanmar to press the then-ruling generals to let an unimpeded influx of foreign aid and experts reach survivors of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, which killed an estimated 134,000 people. He urged the military to embrace democracy as well.
He also attended a peace conference in Naypyitaw in 2016, which sought to end decades of armed conflict with ethnic minority groups.
Two months after the military takeover, Ban urged the U.N. Security Council and Southeast Asian countries to take swift and strong action to stop the deadly crackdown. He then tried to make a diplomatic visit to Myanmar, aiming to meet with all parties to try to de-escalate the conflict and foster dialogue, but he was told by Myanmar’s authorities that it was inconvenient at that time.