Myanmar military's use of lethal force 'disastrous', but sense can still prevail: PM Lee

Myanmar military's use of lethal force 'disastrous', but sense can still prevail: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an interview with BBC on Mar 2, 2021. (Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information)

SINGAPORE: The Myanmar military's use of lethal force in ongoing demonstrations is a "disastrous" move, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

At least 18 people died on Sunday, said the United Nations human rights office, as Myanmar authorities cracked down on protests against the military coup that took place on Feb 1.

"To use lethal force against civilians and unarmed demonstrators, I think it is just not acceptable," said Mr Lee during a recording of an interview with the BBC on Tuesday. The interview transcript was provided by Singapore's Ministry of Communications and Information.

READ: Singapore's Foreign Minister calls on Myanmar's military to stop using lethal force against civilians

READ: Myanmar police fire stun grenades as Southeast Asian ministers aim for talks

"That is disastrous not just internationally, but disastrous domestically, because it means that civilians, everybody in Myanmar, knows.

"You may try to squeeze down the Internet, but news gets around, and the Myanmar population knows who is on their side. If they decide that the government is not on their side, I think the government has a very big problem."

Mr Lee called the situation in Myanmar "tragic", in light of the country's transition from 1988 when the military took power and imposed martial law, to elections in 2015 which Aung San Suu Kyi's party won, leading to the formation of a civilian government.

"Now, after all that journey to a civilian Government, albeit with a big military influence in the system, to have to go back and have the military take over again, it may or may not be according to the constitution, but it is an enormous tragic step back for them," he said.

The arrests and charging of Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership on Feb 1 would not solve the problem, said Mr Lee.

"You really have to get back, release Aung San Suu Kyi, negotiate with her and her team, and work out a peaceful way forward for Myanmar," he said.

Outsiders have historically had very little influence on the situation, and would only lead Myanmar to fall back on those willing to talk to them - previously being China and India, said Mr Lee.

"It was an uncomfortable position for them, but it did not cause them to decide that they must do what the Americans, Europeans, or even the ASEAN countries, would have preferred them to do."

"WE HAVE TO BE REALISTIC ABOUT THIS"

Given the current situation and how the Myanmar military had previously responded, Mr Lee said a "realistic" approach would have to be taken.

"I think we have to be realistic about this. We have to express disapproval for what is done, which is against the values of many other countries, and in fact a large part of humanity. But to say that I will take action against them, where does this lead?" he asked.

READ: Singapore gravely concerned over events in Myanmar, monitoring situation closely: MFA

READ: Myanmar's UN ambassador vows to continue fighting after junta fires him

When asked by the BBC if he was suggesting more engagement and no sanctions, Mr Lee said that it was not a matter of economic consideration.

He cited the "small" volume of trade between Myanmar and Singapore and other countries and he questioned if sanctions would make a difference.

"It will not be the military, or the generals who will hurt. It will be the Myanmar population who will hurt. It will deprive them of food, medicine, essentials, and opportunities for education. How does that make things better?" he asked.

Mr Lee said that he hopes wisdom would prevail as it did previously, with the Myanmar military concluding that it would have to work out an arrangement with the civilian government.

He referenced the Myanmar riots in 1988 that killed thousands, with further violent demonstrations in 2007.

"But bad things having happened, I think sense can still eventually prevail. It may take quite a long time, but it can happen. It has happened before."

Source: CNA/ic(ac)

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