The United Nations has issued a directive to its staff restricting travel to Burma during the election period, citing possible disruptions.
DVB has received a copy of a letter circulated by the New York-based UN Department of Safety and Security dated 22 September 2015. It states: “Myanmar [Burma] will hold general elections on 8 November 2015 with an official campaign running from 8 September till 6 November 2015. There are high expectations in the country that the elections will be carried out peacefully; however electoral-related disruptions are expected around the Polling Day until the final results are announced on 22 November 2015. The Designated Official, in consultation with the Security Management Team, has recommended that temporary travel restrictions should be in place for non-critical, external visits to Myanmar between 6- 24 November 2015.
“I concur with the above recommendations. I further request all organisations of the United Nations Security Management System (UNSMS) to support the implementation of the above measures.”
The letter is signed by Peter Thomas Drennan, the UN under-secretary-general for safety and security.
The UN has yet to respond to DVB requests to elaborate on the specific type of disruptions the agency anticipates, and to identify any particular regions of concern. However, UN information officer in Rangoon Aye Win said, “Disruptions to elections are a possibility in any country undergoing a political transition. It is the obligation of the UN to undertake contingency planning to ensure the safety and security of its staff. These precautions do not imply any prediction into possible scenarios regarding the elections.”
With regard to whether any of the UN’s myriad aid and development programmes across the country would be affected, Aye Win said the agency “carries out precautionary planning and preparedness to be able to respond to a variety of contingencies.”
Although in the midst of a peace process involving the government and more than a dozen ethnic militias, many parts of Burma are still wracked by armed conflict. Ceasefire negotiations are ongoing.
In addition, inter-religious tensions continue to simmer in Burma, with many Muslim candidates recently disqualified from standing for election. Mass violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities boiled over in 2012, resulting in mob riots and at least a hundred deaths.
Last week the embassies of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Norway, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States issued a joint statement, saying they are “concerned about the prospect of religion being used as a tool of division and conflict during the campaign season”.
Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly rejected the statement, and accused the nine embassies of prejudging the election process.
Earlier this month, President Thein Sein, in an address to the nation, noted that Burma is “a country where ethnic nationalities are residing side by side”. He went on to caution both political parties and voters, saying that during the election campaign period, they should “refrain from causing disruption to those harmonious communities and wide diversity of beliefs.”
The opposition National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, is widely expected to win the polls on 8 November. However, questions remain as to whether the military-backed regime will allow a transition of power.
Read more DVB election coverage