Friday, August 18, 2017

UN chief Ban Ki-moon calls for ‘strengthened’ peace process

The UN secretary general stuck to a positive tone at a tight-lipped press briefing yesterday following his meeting with the state counsellor in Nay Pyi Taw.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (left) and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi arrive for a press event in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday. Photo: AFPUN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (left) and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi arrive for a press event in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday. Photo: AFP

Ban Ki-moon will deliver a speech at today’s 21st-century Panglong Conference, which he called a “promising first step” of the new administration’s attempt to solve Myanmar’s decades-long armed conflicts.

Visiting the country for the fifth time, the UN chief said yesterday that the peace process will need further strengthening. But he congratulated the participants’ “patience, determination and spirit of compromise”.

“The steps you have taken toward peace and national reconciliation will need to be further strengthened, broadened and consolidated. This is the real expectation of the international community,” he said.

He added that the United Nations will continue to support the peace process, as it has done since the reign of the oppressive military regime. Mr Ban said the United Nations has consistently backed Myanmar’s journey toward democracy and human rights.

“It has been a great honour to work with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in particular,” he said, while standing alongside the state counsellor.

“Today, I am very pleased and honoured to be back to witness the latest phase in your transition marked by the peaceful, dignified and enthusiastic participation in the election last November,” he said.

He welcomed the new administration’s “emphasised” initiatives to hold a dialogue to build reconciliation, including between the leaders of military establishment, civil society groups, political parties and ethnic armed groups.

Mr Ban said that former president U Thein Sein had steered Myanmar on its “path toward harmonious, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and prosperous democracy”.

However, under the former president’s watch inter-communal religious tension, fomented by nationalist sentiment, erupted between Muslim and Buddhism communities, including the deadly 2012 violence in Rakhine State, and subsequent episodes throughout the country.

Bringing religious communities into harmony still remains a key challenge for the National League for Democracy-led administration, which has been criticised as keeping “silent” about the country’s persecuted, stateless Muslim community in Rakhine State.

Mr Ban said the NLD-backed government has promised him that it will solve the root of the problem in Rakhine State – the issue of citizenship for those who self-identify as “Rohingya”, a term that both the previous government led by U Thein Sein and the current NLD-led administration have declined to use.

“I conveyed the concerns of the international community about the tens of thousands of people who have been living in very poor conditions in IDP camps for the past four years. Like all people everywhere, they need and deserve a future, hope and dignity,” he said.

“This is not just the question of the Rohingya community’s rights to self-identify; the broader issue is that all of Myanmar’s people of every ethnicity and background should be able to live in equality and harmony, side-by-side with their neighbours.”

He also welcomed the establishment of the newly founded advisory commission on Rakhine State, which will be led by his UN predecessor Kofi Annan.

Critics, however, have pressed the UN to take more urgent action as the commission submits its report within a one-year deadline.

“We need long-term solutions and short-term action to start to address the Rohingya crisis,” U Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, said in a statement yesterday. “We hope that Ban Ki-moon is stressing the need for this approach rather than just waiting for the Annan Commission to make its report.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was not asked specific questions about Rakhine State yesterday. However, when asked what the government is doing to ease tensions over the issue of inclusivity at the Panglong Conference after some three groups were effectively barred from attending, she said, “We are trying our best for their participation in the conference. It is up to them should they want to join the conference or not.”