Vivian: Asean needs to respond to 'unfolding tragedy' in Myanmar

Singapore's foreign minister says situation will take quite some time to resolve

Published Tue, Mar 30, 2021 · 05:50 AM


SINGAPORE'S Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has called the situation in Myanmar "an unfolding tragedy" that will take time to overcome, and said it was essential for South-east Asian countries to have a position on how to respond.

"It is going to take quite some time to resolve. I must confess to you that I am pessimistic," Dr Balakrishnan told local media, according to a transcript released on Monday.

Dr Balakrishnan has spoken strongly over the Myanmar military's Feb 1 coup and its deadly crackdown on demonstrators and has been pushing for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to play a role in finding a way out of the crisis.

He spoke to local media on Friday after meeting with Indonesian leaders in Jakarta. He had also visited Malaysia and Asean chair Brunei earlier in the week.

Asean operates by consensus but the divergent views of its 10 members on how to respond to the army's use of lethal force against civilians and the group's policy of non-interference in each others' affairs has limited its ability to act.

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Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have pushed for an urgent high-level meeting on Myanmar and have condemned the crackdown, which has killed 462 people, according to activists.

Singapore said it supports such a meeting.

"It is essential for Asean's credibility, centrality and relevance to have a view, have a position and to be able to offer some constructive assistance to Myanmar," Dr Balakrishnan said. "But do not expect quick solutions."

Dr Balakrishnan also said it was "essential for Asean to consider, to contemplate, to support and to be a constructive presence inside Myanmar. He said he hoped Myanmar would take into consideration the views of Asean leaders.

In Myanmar, activists have called on ethnic minority forces in the diverse nation to back their campaign against military rule.

The General Strike Committee of Nationalities, a main protest group, called in an open letter on Facebook for ethnic minority forces to help those standing up to the "unfair oppression" of the military.

"It is necessary for the ethnic armed organisations to collectively protect the people," the protest group said.

Insurgents from different ethnic minority groups have battled the central government for decades over greater autonomy. Though many groups have agreed to ceasefires, fighting has flared in recent days between the army and forces in both the east and north.

Heavy clashes erupted on the weekend near the Thai border between the army and fighters from Myanmar's oldest ethnic minority force, the Karen National Union (KNU).

About 3,000 villagers fled to Thailand when military jets bombed a KNU area, killing three civilians, after a KNU force overran an army outpost and killed 10 people, an activist group and media said.

Tens of thousands of Karen have lived in camps in Thailand for decades and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said he wanted Myanmar's latest problems to remain there.

"Please, let this be an internal problem. We don't want to have an exodus, evacuation into our territory but we will observe human rights too," Mr Prayuth told reporters in Bangkok.

Thai authorities have forced refugees fleeing air attacks to return to southeastern Karen state, two activist groups said on Monday.

David Eubank, founder of the Free Burma Rangers, said 2,009 people had been forced to return to the Ee Thu Hta displacement camp on the Myanmar side of the border. They had been living there after they were displaced from their homes in earlier attacks. "There's still fighter jets over the area," Mark Farmaner, head of Burma Campaign UK, told Reuters.

In Myanmar's north, fighting erupted on Sunday in the jade-mining area of Hpakant when Kachin Independence Army (KIA) fighters attacked a police station, Kachinwaves media reported. There were no reports of casualties.

Both the KNU and KIA have expressed support for the anti-coup movement and called on the army stop the violence against civilian protesters. REUTERS


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