UN chief holds talks with Suu Kyi in Myanmar

Ban Ki-moon praises pro-democracy leader’s decision to join country’s parliament after agreeing to swear oath of office.

Myanmar Ban Ki-moon
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, left, met with Myanmar president Thein Sein on Monday [EPA]

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has met with Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for talks about the country’s political future after a surprise climb down by the Nobel laureate in her boycott of parliament.

The discussions at the opposition leader’s lakeside mansion in Yangon on Tuesday, where she was locked up by the former military junta for much of the past two decades, came a day after Ban became the first visiting foreign dignitary to address Myanmar’s legislature.

It is the first meeting between Suu Kyi and Ban, who left frustrated after a previous visit in 2009 when the generals who ruled the nation for decades refused to allow him to see the veteran activist while in detention.

On Monday, Suu Kyi decided that she and other politicians in her National League for Democracy (NLD) party would attend the country’s parliament on Wednesday for the first time to take the oath of office.

NLD politicians had refused to pledge to “safeguard” the constitution, stating they wanted that word replaced with “respect,” a change made in other Myanmar laws.

“We have decided to comply at this juncture, because we do not want a political problem or tension,” Suu Kyi said, ending the first rift with the government since she won a parliamentary seat in historic April 1 by-elections.

“The reason we accept it, firstly is the desire of the people,” she said. “Our voters voted for us because they want to see us in parliament.”

Ban welcomed Suu Kyi’s announcement and told reporters he respected her decision.

“She is a strong and dedicated leader of this country,” he said, standing by Suu Kyi’s side at a newsconference after their meeting. “I’m sure that she’ll play a very constructive and active role as a parliamentarian.”

The UN chief said he had invited Suu Kyi to visit the UN headquarters in New York.

Suu Kyi has said one of her priorities as a politician is to push for an amendment of the 2008 constitution, under which one quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for unelected military officials.

‘Leadership and courage’

On Monday, following talks with President Thein Sein, the UN chief had paid tribute to Suu Kyi and the NLD for participating in the recent by-elections during a landmark speech to parliament.

“For many years you displayed resilience and fortitude that for generations have distinguished the Myanmar people,” he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Ban Ki-moon met in the democracy activist’s home in Yangon [Reuters]

Ban also hailed the “vision, leadership and courage” of Thein Sein, who has ushered in a slew of reforms in the last year including welcoming Suu Kyi’s party into the mainstream and freeing political prisoners.

Ban is the latest in a string of top foreign visitors to Myanmar amid a thaw in the army-dominated nation’s relations with the West.

The UN chief welcomed moves by the international community to reward sweeping changes in the country since the end of direct army rule last year, and called for the West to go further in easing or lifting sanctions.

Last week, the European Union responded to what it said were “historic changes” by suspending for one year a wide range of trade, economic and individual sanctions, although it left intact an arms embargo.

Canada and Australia have also recently eased punitive measures and Japan waived $3.7bn of Myanmar’s debt.

But the US last week ruled out an immediate end to its main sanctions on Myanmar, saying it wanted to preserve leverage to push the leadership on an end to ethnic violence, which has marred the country’s reform image.

Source: News Agencies