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UN envoy tells Myanmar military to halt executions, end violence

UN envoy Noeleen Heyzer was not allowed to meet elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi who was detained by the generals when they seized power [Myanmar's Military Information Team via AFP]

The United Nations’ special envoy on Myanmar has called for an end to violence and the release of all political prisoners on her first visit to the troubled country since her appointment last year.

The military seized power in February 2021, hours before the country’s new parliament was due to sit, detaining elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her civilian government.

Since then, Aung San Suu Kyi has been tried and jailed on a slew of charges and still faces many more, while thousands of anti-coup activists have been arrested. Some 2,215 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on its opponents, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been tracking the violence.

Late last month, the military regime executed four political activists in Myanmar’s first use of the death penalty in more than 30 years. Among the dead was Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former legislator from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.

UN Envoy Noeleen Heyzer met coup leader Min Aung Hlaing on Wednesday and Heyzer’s office said she had “directly urged” him “to impose a moratorium on all future executions”. She also called for an immediate end to the violence and the release of all political prisoners, including former Aung San Suu Kyi adviser Sean Turnell, an Australian economist.

UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said while Heyzer had asked to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, she had not been able to do so.

He described the meeting between Heyzer and the army chief as “a good discussion” and said the UN will see whether her key demands will be carried out. The UN will “continue to push on those points,” he added.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, led largely by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have made little progress, with the generals refusing to deliver on a peace plan that was agreed upon last year.

Even while Heyzer was in Myanmar, a spokesperson for the military administration lashed out at the 10-member group for excluding its generals from regional gatherings, accusing it of caving to “external pressure”.

Some members of ASEAN, which Myanmar joined in 1997, recently indicated that the group could be forced to go further if the military continues to stall.

Speaking at a regular press conference, spokesperson Zaw Min Tun rubbished ASEAN’s moves.

“If a seat representing a country is vacant, then it should not be labelled an ASEAN summit,” Zaw Min Tun said.

“What they want is for us to meet and talk with the terrorists,” he said, using the generals’ label for pro-democracy movements that have taken up arms against the military.

In a meeting with Heyzer, the military-appointed foreign minister called on the world body to “constructively and pragmatically review its approach in its cooperation with Myanmar”, according to a statement.

Singaporean sociologist Heyzer was appointed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last year, replacing Swiss diplomat Christine Schraner Burgener, who had been blocked from visiting Myanmar.

Schraner Burgener had called for the UN to take “very strong measures” against the military and was the target of regular attacks in Myanmar’s state-backed media.

State-run MRTV television reported on Heyzer’s visit, saying the envoy and Min Aung Hlaing exchanged views on promoting trust and cooperation between Myanmar and the United Nations. It did not provide any details on the talks, which took place in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw.

Heyzer stressed in the statement as she left Myanmar that “UN engagement does not in any way confer legitimacy” on the military’s administration.

“The people of Myanmar have the right to democracy and self-determination free from fear and want, which will only be possible by the good will and efforts of all stakeholders in an inclusive process,” she said.

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