UN Chief Visit Would Help Myanmar: EU Envoy

TOKYO ~ The European Union’s special envoy said this week a visit by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the military-ruled nation would have a positive impact and trigger dialogue with the opposition.

Ban, who in May made the first visit by a UN chief to Myanmar in almost 45 years, said last Friday that the atmosphere was not right for a return trip.

EU envoy Piero Fassino, a former Italian foreign minister, said that a visit by Ban must be “carefully prepared.”

“We believe that a personal initiative by Ban Ki-moon could prove positive in establishing a serious dialogue between the junta, democratic opposition and ethnic minorities, which has not yet taken place,” Fassino told reporters on a visit to Tokyo.

Last week more than 100 former leaders wrote to the UN chief urging him to travel to Myanmar to secure the release of political prisoners including democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent years under house arrest.

Leaders who signed the letter included ex-US presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-Australian premier John Howard, former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and ex-Philippine leaders Fidel Ramos and Corazon Aquino.

Fassino, who has not travelled to Myanmar in the year since his appointment, was in Japan as part of a tour of Asian nations.

He called for the world to act now to ensure the fairness of elections that Myanmar’s military regime says it will hold in 2010.

“We cannot afford to stay still. We have to act now to obtain democratic guarantees,” Fassino said.

“We want Myanmar’s society and citizens to decide their own future. We want the 2010 general elections to be held in a fair and free environment,” he added.

Ban said last Friday that he was frustrated at the failure of Myanmar’s military to restore democracy.

“At this time I do not think that the atmosphere is ripe for me to undertake my own visit there,” he said.

But he added: “I am committed, and I am ready to visit any time, whenever I can have reasonable expectations of my visit, to be productive and meaningful.”

The European Union and United States have both slapped sanctions on Myanmar, but most Asian countries have focused instead on dialogue. China is Myanmar’s main ally, while Japan – in a rare break with Western allies – is a major donor to the country.

Fassino said he was visiting Asia in hopes of finding a united front on Myanmar.

“The main concern for Asian countries is to avoid the destabilization of the region,” Fassino said.

“The EU and the US have implemented sanctions to force the opening of dialogue. The assessment of the tools to obtain this objective can differ but the goal is the same,” he said.

Fassino said Japan, with its historical ties to Myanmar, had a “very important role to play,” especially from next month when it becomes a member of the UN Security Council.

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