SINGAPORE: A peaceful resolution of the situation in Myanmar is possible as long as all sides can come together to engage in genuine and direct dialogue, said Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Friday (Mar 5).
“We thus hope that the military authorities will release President Win Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi so that these discussions can commence,” he told the House in response to parliamentary questions from MPs.
“We also support a visit by the special envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General to Myanmar, Ms Christine Burgener, and hope that she will also be given access at that visit to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the other NLD (National League for Democracy) leaders.”
If events continue to escalate, it will become even more challenging for all parties in Myanmar to achieve that essential reconciliation, Dr Balakrishnan added.
Tensions will affect the longer-term stability of the region. There will also be further humanitarian impact given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its economic stresses, as well as the unresolved resettlement of those displaced from Rakhine state, he said.
SITUATION IN MYANMAR STILL UNCERTAIN
Myanmar has been in turmoil since Feb 1 when the military ousted and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ending the country’s decade-long experiment with democracy and sparking daily mass protests.
At least 38 people died on Wednesday in the “bloodiest” day since the coup, according to the United Nations.
The Singapore Government on Thursday strongly advised its citizens in Myanmar to consider leaving while it is still possible to do so, and also asked Singaporeans to defer travelling to the Southeast Asian country.
The situation in Myanmar continues to be “fraught with much uncertainty” and there remains “significant risk of escalation”, Dr Balakrishnan said on Friday.
He noted that he has spoken extensively thus far on Singapore’s response to the developments in Myanmar, such as earlier this week during his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate where he called on the Myanmar military to stop the use of lethal force on civilians.
He also attended an informal meeting among the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Tuesday.
“The meeting reaffirmed the practice for ASEAN to discuss important issues of common concern whenever they arise. This meeting was an opportunity to have frank and open, candid discussion and to reflect the international community’s concerns directly to the representatives of the military authorities.”
READ: ASEAN must reiterate guiding principles when it comes to situation in Myanmar: Vivian Balakrishnan
The ASEAN foreign ministers urged the Myanmar military to exercise the utmost restraint and to refrain from the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians, said Dr Balakrishnan, adding that he had conveyed Singapore’s “grave concerns” about the situation in Myanmar.
“The use of lethal force against unarmed civilians is inexcusable under any circumstances. The immediate concern is to step back from a rapidly deteriorating situation,” he said.
“I called on the military authorities to seek a peaceful solution for Myanmar. The alternative is prolonged instability and to quote Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, an enormous, tragic step back," said Dr Balakrishnan, citing an interview that Mr Lee had with the BBC on Tuesday.
AID FOR RAKHINE STATE REFUGEES
Dr Balakrishnan also said that Singapore’s assistance to the displaced people from Rakhine state is ongoing.
Singapore has contributed more than S$1 million in humanitarian aid to both Bangladesh and Myanmar, along with contributions to the ASEAN Coordinating Center for humanitarian assistance on disaster management.
Singapore’s private sector and community organisations have also stepped up to raise funds for the material needs of those in the refugee camps.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has compromised the delivery of some of this humanitarian assistance, the minister said.
“It is important for us to resume efforts to ensure the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of refugees back to Rakhine state,” he told the House.
“We are prepared to send further consignments of aid and stand ready to support future comprehensive needs assessments once repatriation commences, so that we can be more targeted in helping the displaced persons.”
READ: Singapore's Foreign Minister calls on Myanmar's military to stop using lethal force against civilians
Ultimately, the solution to Myanmar’s political and humanitarian problems “lie within Myanmar itself, and in the hands of its people”, said Dr Balakrishnan.
“We hope to see an outcome that reflects the interests and the will of the people of Myanmar.
“Singapore and ASEAN hope that Myanmar will succeed in its path towards democratic transition and national reconciliation … We can only hope that wisdom will prevail and despite all the bloodshed so far, I still think it is not too late,” he said.
MP Leon Perera (WP-Aljunied) asked if ASEAN is monitoring the situation “with a view to keeping all other options open” to nudge Myanmar towards a reconciliation if the situation worsens.
Dr Balakrishnan replied: “The short answer is yes and the foreign ministers are in daily contact with one another."