The Irrawaddy

Myanmar Army Chief Asks UN Envoy for ‘Constructive’ Relationship

Mon State — Army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing urged the United Nations to seek constructive relations with the country during a meeting with the UN’s recently appointed special envoy on Myanmar in Naypyitaw on Thursday.

In a post to his Facebook page, the army chief said he told Christine Schraner Burgener that the UN’s cooperation could help improve Myanmar’s situation. He said the UN faced challenges with locals in Rakhine State — where its assistance to Rohingya Muslims has angered many Buddhist Rakhine — but was welcomed elsewhere.

Schraner Burgener is on her first visit to Myanmar since her appointment as special envoy in April and is also scheduled to meet with ethnic armed groups, civil society organizations, religious leaders and diplomats. She will be looking into the situation in Rakhine State, the peace process, democratization efforts and human rights.

The trip comes amid heavy international pressure on the army, or Tatmadaw, over its alleged abuses in Rakhine State — including widespread reports of arson, rape and murder — that have driven some 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh since August.

“When conflicts arise, it is necessary to distinguish between the act of individuals and that of the Tatmadaw. Myanmar is still weak in democracy experience, wisdom and other sectors such as education and health. In its effort to build up a standard army, the Tatmadaw is trying to work in cooperation with the international community,” the general’s post said in English.

But he said the sanctions and “bias” against Myanmar were not constructive, and that the spread of fake news about the situation in Rakhine State would only lead to more hatred, misunderstanding and resistance to cooperation.

The general said some representatives of the UN Security Council had come to Myanmar in April with a bad attitude and, employing a pair of Burmese expressions, told the envoy: “Let the amicable relations last long and let the hatred shorten,” and “Try to make a big case small and a small case disappear.”

“It is therefore necessary for the UN to bring effective, constructive relations,” he said.

The army has defended its actions in Rakhine State as a legitimate counterinsurgency operation against the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, whose attacks on security posts in August triggered the crackdown.

In his meeting with Schraner Burgener, the general also said the army had a duty to protect the country and that it respected the rule of law.

“In the issue of Rakhine State, the Tatmadaw was just serving its duty of restoring regional peace and stability and protecting the lives and property of the ethnic people. It has never done any acts that may harm the other country, other organizations and the human society,” he said.

Separately, Matt Pottinger, the US National Security Council’s senior director for Asia, is also in Myanmar for a three-day visit. During a press conference in Yangon on Thursday, he said the US would impose further targeted sanctions on Myanmar Army officials who committed human rights abuses.

In December the US imposed sanctions on General Maung Maung Soe — who oversaw the army’s crackdown in Rakhine State last year — that effectively shut him out of the US financial system. The US House of Representatives endorsed measures to impose sanctions on more army officials last month.