Former UN chief Ban returns to Myanmar, meets ruling general

(Reuters) – Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met Myanmar’s military ruler on Monday, media reported, part of a trip aimed at promoting peace in a country racked by conflict since a coup two years ago.

Myanmar has been in crisis since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in February 2021, with the generals struggling to consolidate power and fighting on multiple fronts against ethnic minority rebels and a pro-democracy resistance movement.

Ban made the surprise visit late on Sunday, according to state media. He met junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in the capital Naypyitaw, pro-military news portal NP News reported.

“They exchanged views on the latest situation in Myanmar and discussed positively and openly,” it quoted junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun as saying.

The spokesperson could not immediately be reached by Reuters.

Attempts to reach Ban by phone were unsuccessful. A former diplomat who works with Ban said the trip was arranged a long time ago and had been postponed several times.

He said Ban would call for the release of Suu Kyi, who was arrested during the coup and is serving 33 years in prison for multiple offences, adding a meeting with the Nobel laureate would not be possible.

Ban made multiple trips to Myanmar with the U.N. before and after the country’s transition in 2011 away from five decades of military rule, supporting sweeping political and economic reforms that were later unravelled by the coup.

At least 1.2 million people have been displaced by fighting, according to the United Nations, and the junta has been accused by activists of atrocities and use of heavy weapons and air strikes against the civilian population in its operation against the resistance. The junta says it is fighting “terrorists”.

Ban was representing “The Elders”, a group of former international leaders established by the late Nelson Mandela to work for peace, human rights and justice.

(Reporting by Reuters staff and by Hyonhee Shin and Ju-min Park in Seoul; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie)