Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is on a surprise visit to military-run Myanmar on behalf of a group of elder statesmen that engages in peace-making and human rights initiatives around the world, a South Korean diplomat said.
The arrival of Mr Ban, the deputy chair of The Elders, in the capital Naypyitaw, was announced on Sunday night by state television MRTV.
It said he arrived with a small delegation, and was greeted by the deputy ministers for defence and foreign affairs.
“This visit by Mr Ban Ki-Moon was totally scheduled by The Elders. We are not engaged in this process,” said a South Korean Embassy official.
“This is not the official visit. It is probably a two-day visit. He will depart this evening.”
Mr Ban is a former South Korean foreign minister.
The Elders have not yet released any details about Mr Ban’s visit, and no further information was given by the military government, but it appeared certain to deal with Myanmar’s ongoing political crisis.
The group was founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007.
An official in Naypyitaw said Mr Ban was scheduled to have a Monday morning meeting with the country’s top leader Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing, and tour the National Museum.
Myanmar has been wracked by violent unrest since the army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1 2021.
The army’s takeover prevented Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party from beginning a second term in office.
The takeover was met with massive public opposition, which security forces quashed with deadly force and has since turned into widespread armed resistance.
Outside efforts to mediate peace have meet with no success, even when coming from parties sympathetic to the military government such as the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The government decries most pressure to negotiate as infringing on Myanmar’s sovereignty, and generally describes most of the pro-democracy opposition as terrorists.
Mr Ban has a long history of involvement with Myanmar. While UN secretary-general from 2007 to 2016, Mr Ban went to Myanmar to press the country’s then-ruling generals to let an unimpeded influx of foreign aid and experts reach survivors of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, which killed an estimated 134,000 people. He urged the military to embrace democracy as well.
He also attended a peace conference in Naypyitaw in 2016 that sought to end decades of armed conflict with ethnic minority groups.
Two months after the military takeover, Mr Ban urged the UN Security Council and Southeast Asian countries to take swift and strong action to stop the deadly crackdown.
He then tried to make a diplomatic visit to Myanmar, aiming to meet with all parties to try to de-escalate the conflict and foster dialogue, but he was told by Myanmar’s authorities that it was inconvenient at that time.