The UN special envoy to Myanmar announced Monday that she will not return to the Southeast Asian country unless the military government allows her to meet with ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The envoy, Singapore’s Noeleen Heyzer, also warned of the “tragic reality that large numbers of people will be forced to flee” Myanmar in search of safety, and that the international community must assist in providing humanitarian aid to them.
Myanmar’s military deposed Suu Kyi’s elected government in February last year, plunging the country into what some U.N. Civil war, according to experts.
Suu Kyi and top members of her Cabinet and party were arrested and have since been tried on a slew of charges that critics say were made up to keep them out of politics.
Heyzer described her assignment as part of “broader United Nations efforts to urgently support an effective and peaceful Myanmar-led political pathway to return to civilian rule based on the will and needs of the people” at a seminar in Singapore organized by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a Southeast Asian studies research center.
Both the military government and its opponents have accused Heyzer of engaging in excessive dialogue with the opposition. She emphasized her “mandate as an impartial actor to engage with all stakeholders in Myanmar, the region, and globally, in accordance with United Nations principles.”
Suu Kyi, a key figure in Myanmar politics for four decades, has not been seen in public since the army took over, even during 15 years of house arrest. Her captors, one or two personal assistants, and her lawyers have been the only people who have had access to her. She was transferred last month from house arrest at a secret location in the capital, Naypyitaw, believed to be a military base, to a specially built facility at the city’s prison.
Suu Kyi, 77, has already received a 20-year prison sentence, including a three-year sentence with hard labor imposed last week for alleged election fraud. The army attempted to justify its takeover by claiming that the November 2020 general election, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won by a landslide, was riddled with irregularities, an allegation that election observers strongly refuted.
Heyzer made her first visit to Myanmar since her appointment in October 2021 last month, and in a meeting with the country’s leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, she requested that Suu Kyi be allowed to return to her own home and that Heyzer be allowed to visit her.
The government has repeatedly said that it cannot allow Suu Kyi any visitors while legal proceedings are underway against her.
“In response to my request to meet with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the senior general indicated that a meeting could take place in the future.” “I am now very concerned about her health and well-being, and I condemn her hard labor sentence,” Heyzer said on Monday.
“If I ever return to Myanmar, it will only be to meet with Daw Aung San Suu,” she said. The honorific “Daw” is used for older women.
Heyzer stated that she will concentrate on the possibility of providing “unhindered and safe delivery of humanitarian aid through all available channels” as part of a joint effort between the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member.
The U.N. estimates that 14.4 million people, or one-fourth of Myanmar’s population, require humanitarian assistance, many of whom have been displaced from their homes due to conflict.
ASEAN is also attempting to play a peacemaking role in Myanmar, despite the military government’s limited cooperation in implementing a five-point consensus reached by ASEAN on Myanmar last year, which calls for dialogue among all parties involved, the provision of humanitarian aid, and an immediate cessation of violence, among other things.
Critics claim that the military government withholds aid from areas where it is engaged in armed conflict with ethnic minority groups fighting for greater autonomy for decades, as well as pro-democracy forces opposed to military rule that have formed alliances with some of those groups.
Heyzer said current realities, including the military government’s lack of control over many frontier areas, mean that ways must be found to provide assistance directly to those living there. The military government says it is capable of providing necessary assistance and denies blocking aid.