UN chief Ban Ki-moon has warned Asian nations that their credibility could suffer if they do not take a tougher line with the Burmese junta ahead of a national election in November.
Ban exhorted the military government’s neighbours to do more ahead of a meeting on Burma on Monday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
The meeting will discuss human rights, and humanitarian conditions, as well as preparations for the 7 November election, which Britain, the United States and Canada have said will be held in “oppressive” conditions.
The UN secretary general has expressed mounting “frustration” with the junta, which has stopped Nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and other opponents from standing in the election.
Ban told leaders from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday that the UN and the group “share the aim of stability and development in Myanmar [Burma].
“We agree on the critical need for a democratic transition and national reconciliation, and for ensuring free, fair and inclusive elections.”
But he added: “Failure to meet these expectations could undermine the credibility of the process – which, in turn, could reflect on ASEAN’s collective values and principles.”
Ban said the UN and ASEAN “must also help Myanmar, so that they can address these humanitarian and development challenges.”
ASEAN – made up of Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – has a strong principle of non-interference in members’ affairs, but Burma has been a source of embarrassment for more democratic members of the bloc.
The UN chief said he wanted to work with the military government “to enable a successful transition to civilian and democratic rule” and called on ASEAN to show support “in encouraging Myanmar’s engagement with my good offices.”
He highlighted the issue in individual talks with ASEAN leaders in New York, including the new Philippines President, Benigno Aquino. Ban pressed on Aquino “the importance of engagement by the countries in the region,” a UN spokesman said.
Ban has increasingly thrown his usual caution to the wind in his comments on Burma.
Already this month he has “expressed his frustration concerning access to the Myanmar authorities” and noted with “some concern” the junta’s decision to ban Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy and nine other parties from the election.
“The international community is at something of a loss over how to propose a way forward with the intransigent Myanmar government,” said one UN Security Council diplomat.
“The UN secretary general is just reflecting that. The rights situation is bad, even everyday life is bad for many people there.”
US President Barack Obama also pressed the 10 ASEAN nations at a luncheon he hosted for them the same day.
Washington has admitted it is also disappointed with efforts to use dialogue to promote democratic change.
“The president believes in the importance of democratic reform and protection of human rights and renews his call on Burma to embark on a process of national reconciliation,” a US statement said after the lunch.
Obama called for the release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi.
The ASEAN leaders also called for free elections, and welcomed US engagement with Myanmar, hoping it would encourage the military government to undertake political and economic reforms.