Ban Ki-moon to Visit Burma to Observe 'Transition'

By Lalit K Jha 24 April 2012

WASHINGTON D.C.—Stressing that Burma is just at the beginning of a transition, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on Monday that he will visit the Southeast Asian country later this week.

This will be his third trip to the military-dominated nation in his role as head of the United Nations.

“Myanmar is only at the beginning of its transition,” he said. “Many challenges lie ahead. Many concerns have yet to be addressed. Yet I am convinced that we have an unprecedented opportunity to help the country advance toward a better future.”

“That is why, today, I am announcing that I have accepted an invitation from President Thein Sein to visit Myanmar. I will depart at the end of this week,” Ban told reporters after a meeting with the Friends of the Secretary-General on Burma.

The 14-member group has been a source of consistent support for the bloc’s efforts in engagement with Burma, he added. Observing that this is a critical moment in Burma’s transition, the UN Secretary-General said now is the time for the international community to stand together at its side.

“We have seen encouraging political and economic reforms over the past year-and-a-half. The recent elections were a landmark. We have seen important steps toward reform and reconciliation. We see Myanmar re-opening to the world. Yet we also recognize this fresh start is still fragile,” Ban said.

Responding to questions, Ban hoped that the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, and the government would be able to find a mutually beneficial, harmonious way to make parliamentary proceedings progress smoothly.

The NLD refused to take up the 43 seats it won in the April 1 by-elections as they must currently pledge to “protect” the undemocratic 2008 Constitution. The party has campaigned on a platform of amending the widely-condemned document and wants the wording changed to “respect” instead.

“They have gone through very historic by-elections recently that was reflected by the will of the Myanmar people,” Ban said. “I have taken note of what President Thein Sein said about this matter and I hope that they will be able to find a resolution on this issue harmoniously for the further democratization of their country.”

Ban expressed satisfaction over recent moves to reconcile with ethnic groups, particularly with the Karen National Union. He hoped the same progress will be emulated with the Kachin group. It is important that the Burmese authorities reach out and talk with all minorities for their smooth transition towards fuller participation in the democratization process, he said.

“I will have many opportunities of discussing this matter, starting with President Thein Sein, to Aung San Suu Kyi, to speakers of Parliament. I will have another opportunity of engaging with ministers and economic and social-related leaders there,” Ban said.

Meanwhile, the State Department urged the Burmese government and leaders to resolve the issue of the parliamentary swearing-in oath.

“Our understanding is that the NLD is in discussion with the government and with other parties with regard to this issue and we are calling on everybody to try to work this through in a manner that will allow the NLD to take its seats,” said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.

“We want to see the government and the opposition continue to work on their issues in a consensual manner through dialogue, and that is our understanding of what the NLD itself wants. So I think we need to watch this and hope that in coming days this can be settled,” she added.

But Nuland said the US will not wade into a domestic debate between the players involved. “The NLD has concerns about a number of things, including the name of the country, that were adopted at a time when they were not able to participate in the political process,” she said. “So they’re going to have to work through these things together as part of the general opening in the reform process.”