UN envoy makes first visit to Myanmar amid backdrop of extended sentence for Aung San Suu Kyi

Noeleen Heyzer, the UN's new special envoy for Myanmar, began her first trip to the military-ruled south Asian nation on Tuesday, a day after ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to an additional six years in prison over corruption charges.

Ms Heyzer, who was appointed to the post last October, is visiting after “extensive consultations with actors from across the political spectrum, civil society as well as communities affected by the ongoing conflict”, the UN said in a statement.

Although it was unclear if she had requested to meet the ousted state counsellor, the UN said Ms Heyzer would “focus on addressing the deteriorating situation and immediate concerns”.

The UN Security Council had called for an immediate cessation of all forms of violence that have plagued the nation since last year's coup by the military.

On 1 February 2021, the junta wrested power from Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party-led government, citing election fraud — a claim that independent election observers refute.

Since the coup, thousands of civilians have taken up arms against the junta and its attempts at stifling democracy marked by widespread violence and arbitrary mass arrests, sparking an international outcry.

Junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun told a pro-army media outlet that Ms Heyzer will meet “the country’s leader and other senior ministers”.

He added that no requests were made to meet Ms Suu Kyi, who is being held in solitary confinement in a jail in the capital Naypyitaw.

On Monday, a military court in a secretive hearing sentenced the 77-year-old leader to an additional six years in prison on four corruption charges.

Demonstrators hold placards with pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi as they protest against the military coup in Yangon (REUTERS)
Demonstrators hold placards with pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi as they protest against the military coup in Yangon (REUTERS)

She had been charged with at least 18 offences ranging from graft to election violations, which carry a combined maximum prison term of nearly 190 years. She has already been sentenced to 11 years in other cases, including sedition and corruption.

Meanwhile, Ms Heyzer, a women’s rights activist from Singapore-turned-diplomat, is reportedly expected to hold meetings in the capital.

While the UN and the block of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have been trying to resolve the Myanmar crisis, they have made little progress due to the junta chief’s refusal to engage.

Last month, the junta faced global condemnation when it executed four pro-democracy activists for aiding “terror acts”. The Asean bloc said the executions made a “mockery” of its efforts to achieve peace in the country.

Earlier this month, Cambodian foreign minister Prak Sokhonn warned that further executions would force the regional group to reconsider how it engages with Myanmar.