Ex-UN Secretary-General Ban Makes Surprise Visit to Myanmar

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Ex-un Secretary-General Ban Makes Surprise Visit to Myanmar
In this photo provided by the Myanmar Military True News Information Team, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, right, head of the military council, talks with Ban Ki Moon, left, former U.N Secretary-General, during their meeting Monday, April 24, 2023, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. (Military True News Information Team via AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made a surprise visit to military-run Myanmar on behalf of a group of elder statesmen that engages in peace-making and human rights initiatives around the world, local media and a South Korean diplomat said Monday.

State television MRTV reported Monday night that Ban, deputy chair of The Elders, met in the capital, Naypyitaw, with top leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. It said they 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.

It said Ban arrived with a small delegation on Sunday and was greeted by the deputy ministers of defense and foreign affairs. It said Ban’s party departed Monday after the meetings.

The visit by Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, appeared certain to have focused on Myanmar’s ongoing political crisis.

“This visit by Mr. Ban Ki-moon was totally scheduled by The Elders. We are not engaged in this process,” said a South Korean Embassy official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media. “This is not the official visit.”

The Elders was founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007 and comprises mostly retired world leaders. The group did not immediately release any details about Ban’s visit.

The military government’s spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun told the BBC Burmese-language service that Ban separately met with former President Thein Sein. BBC reported that he did not meet Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been imprisoned since her elected government was ousted by the army in February 2021.

Ban had met with then-President Thein Sein and with Suu Kyi when he was U.N. chief from 2007-2016.

Myanmar has been wracked by violent unrest since the army ousted Suu Kyi’s elected government. The takeover prevented Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party from beginning a second term in office.

The army’s seizure of power was met with massive public opposition which was quashed by security forces with deadly force and has since turned into widespread armed resistance.

Outside efforts to mediate peace have met with no success, even from parties sympathetic to the military government such as the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The government decries most pressure to negotiate as an infringement on Myanmar’s sovereignty and generally describes most of the pro-democracy opposition as terrorists.

Ban has a long history of involvement with Myanmar. While he was U.N. secretary-general, he went to Myanmar to press the country’s 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 that 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.