Myanmar should take ‘bold actions’ towards democracy, says Ban Ki-moon

Myanmar should take ‘bold actions’ towards democracy, says Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon (R) addresses Security Council
Myanmar needs to take major steps towards democratizing, protecting human rights and accelerating its national reconciliation process, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, calling authorities’ recent use of force against peaceful demonstrators in the Asian country “abhorrent and unacceptable.”

Addressing a Security Council meeting, which also heard a briefing from his Special Adviser Ibrahim Gambari on his visit to Myanmar earlier this week, Mr. Ban said it was time for a serious and comprehensive dialogue between the Government and the political opposition.

“Now, more than ever before, the Government of Myanmar should take bold actions towards democratization and respect for human rights,” he said. “The national reconciliation process must be accelerated and be made as broad-based, inclusive and transparent as possible.”

Both Mr. Ban and Mr. Gambari welcomed news that Senior General Than Shwe has is prepared to meet the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, albeit with certain conditions.

“This is a potentially welcome development which calls for maximum flexibility on all sides,” Mr. Gambari said, adding that it was vital the meeting take as soon as possible.

The Secretary-General and his Special Adviser told the Council they were deeply concerned by recent events, amid reports of continued human rights violations by authorities in the wake of the protests.

Mr. Gambari said both security forces and non-uniformed elements are reported to have carried out abuses, especially during the nightly curfews, including arbitrary arrests, disappearances, beatings, raids of private homes, the blockading of monasteries and the mass relocation of monks outside Yangon, the country’s biggest city.

The Government told Mr. Gambari that 2,095 people arrested because of the protests have been released, including 728 monks, and that more releases will follow. The curfew in the cities of Yangon and Mandalay has been relaxed as well.

Although some restrictions have been eased and some military forces have been withdrawn, Mr. Ban stressed that “the overall situation still remains of serious concern, especially with regard to the unknown predicament of the large number of individuals who were arrested without due process.”

He called for the immediate release of all those in detention because of the protests.

Mr. Ban and Mr. Gambari also emphasized the need for sustained support from the region and the wider international community, including the United Nations, to help in advancing the cause of democratization and economic development.

Mr. Gambari told Council members that senior Government officials informed him that the demonstrations had been instigated by minority elements opposed to the Government and largely limited to Yangon and Mandalay. They also said the authorities had acted with “the utmost restraint” and that those detained would soon be released after investigations had been completed.

“It is clear, however, that the demonstrations over the past few weeks are for the most part the expression of deep and widespread discontent about socio-economic conditions in the country,” the Special Adviser said.

He noted that poverty is accelerating across Myanmar and the country’s social service structures are increasingly unable to meet the basic needs of the population. The average household now has to spend as much as 69 per cent of its budget on food consumption because of the rising prices of basic items.

Mr. Gambari added that while the protests followed a sudden spike in fuel prices in mid-August, they also contained an important political dynamic.

“What is clear is that since 1988, the democratic aspirations of the people of Myanmar have been systematically denied by the Government in the name of stability and security.”

He warned that unless the Government opens up its process of national reconciliation, “the demands for greater inclusiveness, participation and transparency, and for an acceleration of the transition to democracy and civilian rule, are likely to continue.”

Mr. Ban said it was too early to say whether Mr. Gambari’s mission had been a success or not, but it appeared “that a window of opportunity has opened, and it is vital that the Government of Myanmar responds positively.”

The Security Council then held closed consultations with Mr. Gambari after the initial open meeting on his visit.

Earlier, Mr. Gambari also briefed General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim, who voiced “grave concern” at the situation and condemned the use of force to resolve the situation.

Mr. Kerim also called on the Government to ensure that all representatives of political groups and ethnic minorities can participate fully in the national reconciliation and political transition processes, including the drafting of the constitution, according to a statement released by his spokesman.