The UN’s new special envoy (UN SE) to Burma is in hot water after an interview with reporter May Wong from Singapore’s Channel News Asia (CNA) — aired the day before the anniversary of the coup — received a highly critical reception from Burma’s citizens.
In the interview, Special Envoy Noeleen Heyzer repeatedly states that she would press for negotiations with all parties (including the NUG and, to the dislike of many, the military), whilst also expressing the debatable opinion that “the military is in control” of the country “at this present time”.
On one occasion, the envoy alludes to “power sharing” — a concept introduced earlier in the interview by correspondent Wong.
On Tuesday night, 247 CSOs operating within Burma released a letter criticizing the UN SE, arguing that “These statements could set a dangerous precedent, that those who take control through brutal means… be welcomed to share power. Such suggestions send a signal to the military that the UN is willing to act as a broker for their power despite the grave crimes they have committed, and further embolden them to commit atrocities with total impunity.”
Following this eruption of criticism, DVB received a letter from the office of the Special Envoy in which Dr Heyzer’s team argued CNA’s indication that the SE “had suggested “power sharing” earlier was a clear misrepresentation,” stating that the envoy had “never proposed power sharing as an option and has consistently advocated for a Myanmar-led process.”
In a version of the interview aired by CNA the envoy can at one point be heard to say: “They [young people] need to negotiate what this power sharing could look like over a long term.”
DVB has asked the UN SE’s office for further comment on the matter, and expects to receive a reply by Friday.
In the interview, Dr Heyzer also outlines her plans for an ASEAN-led solution to the crisis in Burma, and says that she has engaged in talks with regional leaders with the intent of establishing a “humanitarian corridor”. Relative to the NUG and internal CSOs, the UN has been seen to be dragging its heels in the delivery of life-saving aid for the more than 300,000 people displaced by violence in the country since the coup.
Importantly, Dr Heyzer told Wong that she will not press for a ceasefire, presumably recognising the ways in which the military has been shown to subvert such agreements to their own benefit.
The Twitter account of Burma’s Civil Disobedience Movement today went further than most in calling for the envoy to resign. “Not only did she start her job from an ignorant patronizing defeatist position [sic], but also doubled down on her mistake and lied it was “misrepresentation” when she was given a chance to correct.”
In the letter to DVB, the UN SE team state that “She [Dr Heyzer] remains committed to supporting such a process based on engaging directly with and listening carefully to all those affected by the ongoing crisis.”
It ends with the claim: “The Special Envoy has received broad national support for her approach.”