Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. AP
Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that he was communicating with authorities in military-run Myanmar as well as members of the armed resistance following a surprise visit to the country last month, and called for more diplomatic pressure on the ruling generals to end the violence.
Ban did not specify the nature of those communications and declined to disclose the details of his conversations with military leaders during their April meetings. He was speaking at a Seoul news conference along with other members of The Elders, a group of senior statesmen engaging in peacemaking and human rights initiatives around the world.
“I am in close contact with all those people to do as much as we can do to help them democratize Myanmar,” Ban said.
He said he was still communicating with Myanmar authorities, the president of Indonesia — who holds the rotating chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations — and Myanmar's National Unity Government, which is leading an underground civilian administration following the military takeover in 2021 that toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
In his meetings with Myanmar’s military ruler, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, and other top officials, Ban urged them to take the initiative in resolving the country’s violent political crisis and release political detainees. He also called for the military leaders to implement a peace plan proposed by ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member, and a separate United Nations resolution to stop the violence between the military and pro-democracy resistance forces.
Ban's visit came at the invitation of Myanmar’s military government. He has remained tight-lipped about what the military leaders said to him during the meetings. The military government has consistently rejected outside calls for negotiations as an infringement on Myanmar’s sovereignty, and labeled the pro-democracy opposition as terrorists.
At the news conference, Ban said he told the military leaders in April that he “could never accept” their attempts to “avoid the argument,” but didn’t elaborate on their conversations.
Some experts expressed skepticism about Ban’s initiative, citing the lack of progress in previous peacemaking attempts.
Nay Phone Latt, spokesperson of the National Unity Government, told The Associated Press following Ban’s visit that international leaders should know their hands will be stained with blood when they shake hands with the leader of the “terrorist army,” referring to Ban’s meeting with Min Aung Hlaing.
Ban noted that the military leaders following his meetings released around 2,000 political prisoners, although they didn’t include Suu Kyi, who has been imprisoned since 2021.
When asked whether he would pursue further visits to Myanmar on behalf of The Elders, including possible meetings or contacts with the opposition NUG, Ban replied: “Whatever is necessary.”
As the U.N. secretary-general, Ban went to Myanmar to press the country’s then-ruling generals to let 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, Myanmar's capital, in 2016 that sought to end decades of armed conflict with ethnic minority groups.
The news conference came hours after a failed North Korean attempt to launch a military satellite into orbit triggered evacuation warnings and security jitters in South Korea and Japan.
Ban and other members of The Elders — the group's chair and former Irish President Mary Robinson, former Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia and former Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos — criticized the launch, which Santos described as an “unnecessary provocation.”