A senior U.N. official said she had urged Myanmar’s military ruler to release political prisoners and stop executions on Wednesday, in a rare, high-profile visit that comes amid growing violence in the country.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military overthrew an elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi early last year and launched a bloody crackdown on peaceful protests and armed resistance movements that followed.
Noeleen Heyzer arrived in the capital Naypyitaw late on Tuesday and was greeted by foreign ministry officials, state media reported, before holding a meeting with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on Wednesday.
“My visit is to convey the concern of the United Nations and propose concrete steps needed to reduce the conflict and suffering of the people. UN engagement does not in any way confer legitimacy,” Heyzer said in a statement released by the U.N.
A spokesperson for Myanmar’s junta did not respond to a request for comment about the meeting. Myanmar’s state television MRTV reported on Wednesday that the two discussed the relationship between Myanmar and the U.N., without elaborating.
Global condemnation has been heaped on Myanmar’s generals, most recently for executing four democracy activists they said had aided “terror acts”, referring to attacks by militias fighting military rule and seeking to avenge a deadly crackdown on protests.
Myanmar courts have also handed down long prison sentences to political prisoners. Heyzer’s visit came just a day after a court sentenced the country’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi to six years’ jail on corruption charges critics say are trumped up.
Heyzer pressed Min Aung Hlaing to impose a moratorium on future executions and release all political prisoners, according to the statement.
She also requested a meeting with Suu Kyi and asked for the release of one of her advisers, Australian economist Sean Turnell, who was detained during the coup in February 2021.
“I want to have an opportunity to meet with her (Suu Kyi) as soon as possible… She is a critical stakeholder for my dialogue with all parties concerned,” Heyzer said in the statement.
Suu Kyi, 77, who is being held in solitary confinement in Naypyitaw jail, has been charged with at least 18 offences ranging from graft to election violations, carrying combined maximum jail terms of nearly 190 years.
Myanmar’s military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said at a press conference on Wednesday that it would not allow anyone to meet people facing criminal charges.