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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's press encounter following meeting of the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar

New York, 23 February 2009

SG: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to see you.

Today, I convened and chaired the eighth meeting of the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar to discuss the current situation in the country and ongoing efforts in the context of my good offices mandate. The Group heard a briefing from my Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, on the outcome of his recent visit to Myanmar.

The Group of Friends continues to express unified support for the continuation of our good offices efforts. Our Myanmar interlocutors have also indicated the importance they attach to the good offices' work. My Special Adviser is prepared to extend the UN's political facilitation with both the Government and the Opposition to build on these efforts.

It would be disappointing if this were not followed now by meaningful steps in response to the specific recommendations made by the United Nations in the context of my good offices. This is the time for Myanmar to seize the opportunity before it to send positive signals.

In this regard, I note that following the visit of my Special Adviser, the authorities of Myanmar have announced an amnesty which reportedly includes some 23 political prisoners as of now, including individuals whose names Mr. Gambari discussed with the authorities during his visit.

I wish to reiterate my call for the release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the resumption of dialogue between the Government and the Opposition without delay and without preconditions.

I reminded all the Friends that they all have an important role to play, including neighbouring countries and ASEAN members who are best placed to appreciate and help address the challenges and opportunities facing Myanmar.

It is in the interest of the international community as a whole, however, that we should collectively find ways to encourage Myanmar to move towards meeting the expectations and concerns of the international community.

To that end, I am committed to make every effort to continue to implement the mandate entrusted to me, with the cooperation of Myanmar and the support of the international community.

Thank you very much.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you have a situation where it seems like the Security Council diplomats are saying they are too divided really to do much on Myanmar right now. You have disappointment over Mr. Gambari's last visit. You have a signal from the regime in terms of the release of political prisoners. Is it time then for you to use, Sir, your position, and go to Myanmar to use your personal influence to get them to move ahead?

SG: First of all, the recent visit by Professor Ibrahim Gambari made a positive contribution to our ongoing negotiations and consultations with the Myanmar authorities. I would welcome this announcement of amnesty as a first step towards a larger and bigger implementation by the Myanmar authorities. There are still hundreds and hundreds of detainees [held] under political reasons. As I said, I would urge again the Myanmar authorities to release all the detainees, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

I am willing to visit Myanmar again, to build on my visit in May last year. I understand, I believe that there are a range of issues of mutual interest between the United Nations and Myanmar that could be usefully discussed, including political issues. We have discussed this issue during this Group of Friends meeting, and I am encouraged by such a strong show of solidarity and support by the members of the United Nations on the continuing of my good offices role. We have a unity of support. But at the same time I would like to see some unity of approaches among members. This is what we are now continuing to consult with the countries concerned.

Q: Will you go?

SG: I will try to visit, but there may be some issues - first of all I have to discuss with the Myanmar Government, about timing, about agendas which I would be able to discuss, but nothing has yet been discussed. As a matter of principal, I am telling you that I am willing to make a return visit to build upon what I had discussed last May, including the political issues.

Q: Is it fair to say that you would like to see a lot more progress in terms of the release of prisoners, national reconciliation and more inclusive government action before you actually go to Myanmar?

SG: It is the expectation of the whole international community that we see the full democratization of Myanmar. For that to be possible, the Myanmar Government should take the necessary measures, on the basis of what they have committed, including the release of all political prisoners. The international community is ready to provide necessary support, socio-economic support to Myanmar, and there should be positive measures taken by Myanmar. But I would not say there should be any preconditions for my visit. This is a part of ongoing consultation and negotiations and efforts by the international community, and also entrusted to me by the General Assembly. Therefore, as I said, there are a broad range of issues which will be very beneficial for the Myanmar authorities to discuss with me during my visit, if that visit is realized.

Q: On the Canadian Prime Minister's visit today?you met with Stephen Harper earlier today, Mr. Secretary-General. Can you tell us what you talked about with the Prime Minister of Canada?

SG: Canada is one of the very important Member States, sharing the major goals and objectives of the United Nations. We discussed how we can accelerate ongoing efforts to discuss climate change; we discussed the situation in Afghanistan, and I appreciated the Canadian Government's commitment and strong contribution to Afghanistan. We also discussed the current global economic crisis, how the international community, together with the United Nations, can address this issue, with particular emphasis on the plight and challenges of the most vulnerable countries. We also discussed how we can expedite the process of releasing my Special Envoy, Mr. [Robert] Fowler.

Q: Any reaction to the ICC [International Criminal Court] announcement, Sir, that they will issue the ruling on Mr. [Omar al-] Bashir on March 4th? And are you in touch with the authorities to assure the safety of UNAMID forces, Sir?

SG: The ICC is an independent judicial organization. This is their decision. I know that they have announced this morning that their judgment will be given on March 4th. I am awaiting their judgment.

Q: Human Rights Watch has said that 2,000 civilians have been killed in Sri Lanka since the beginning of the year. I know that the Tamil Tigers have written a letter to the EU, to the UN and others, offering a ceasefire but not to lay down their arms. Before, you said that you weren't calling for a ceasefire because it wasn't on the Security Council's agenda. Now, having heard hopefully from Mr. [John] Holmes, what do you think should happen in Sri Lanka at this time?

SG: Mr. Holmes had a very good visit to Sri Lanka. He had meetings with many senior government officials, including President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa. The UN deplores the increasing casualties among civilians trapped in the intense fighting between the government and the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] over the last several days and would strongly support a suspension of fighting for the purpose of allowing safe passage of the civilian population trying to flee the conflict.

There is an urgent need to bring this conflict to an end without any further unnecessary loss of civilian life and destruction of Sri Lankan society. The United Nations renews its call on all sides to pursue serious efforts toward political discussion to achieve an orderly end to the conflict.

Thank you very much. As you know, I am leaving for Africa today, and I will see you. Thank you.