UN chief outlines Myanmar vision in rare speech

YANGOON: UN chief Ban Ki-moon gave a rare public speech on Saturday outlining his vision for a democratic Myanmar, just hours after the ruling junta refused to let him meet opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ban told an audience of diplomats, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations that the military regime must free the pro-democracy icon and introduce other reforms for the good of the country’s people.

“I am here today to say: Myanmar, you are not alone. We want to work with you for a united, peaceful, prosperous, democratic and modern Myanmar,” Ban said at the Drug Elimination Museum in the commercial hub Yangon.

“We want to help you rise from poverty ... work with you so that your country can take its place as a respected and responsible member of the international community,” the secretary general said.

“But let me emphasise: neither peace nor development can thrive without democracy and respect for human rights. Myanmar is no exception.” Junta chief Than Shwe earlier Saturday refused to let Ban visit Aung San Suu Kyi, who is in prison facing trial over an incident in which an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside house in May.

Ban earlier described Than Shwe’s snub as “deeply disappointing” and said in his speech that all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, “should be released without delay”.

“The primary responsibility rests with the government to move the country toward its stated goals of national reconciliation and democracy,” Ban said.

Myanmar was one of the first UN members to adopt its Declaration of Human Rights, he said, but added: “Unfortunately that commitment has not been matched in deed. Myanmar’s human rights record remains a matter of grave concern.” Ban also urged the junta to ensure that elections promised in 2010 should be free and fair. Critics say they will be a sham that will allow the ruling generals to entrench their power.

“The upcoming election, the first in 20 years, must be inclusive, participatory and transparent if it is to be credible,” he said.