Regional powers to pressure Myanmar junta over deadly crackdown

Regional powers to pressure Myanmar junta over deadly crackdown

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Singapore: The Myanmar military government will face regional pressure on Tuesday to end the deadly suppression of anti-coup demonstrators, after some Southeast Asian countries broke their diplomatic traditions and made exceptionally severe condemnations.

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc will hold talks with a junta representative to discuss the crisis that began when the military detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The February 1 takeover ended Myanmar’s brief experiment with democracy, triggering global condemnation, nationwide protests and an increasingly brutal crackdown by the security forces.

Violence on Sunday was the worst seen so far, with the United Nations saying at least 18 people were killed when troops and police fired on demonstrators in cities across Myanmar.

ASEAN, which brings together 10 countries including Myanmar, has long been criticised for inaction in the face of crises, with members typically sticking to the bloc’s policy of non-interference in each others affairs.

But some of the bloc’s most influential members have issued withering criticism of the military in recent days.

“We are appalled by the use of lethal force against civilians,” Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told the city-state’s parliament Monday.

“We call on the Myanmar military authorities to exercise utmost restraint,” he added, while urging a “return to the path of democratic transition”.

As Myanmar’s biggest foreign investor, the prosperous city-state is seen has having some leverage over the generals.

Indonesia, the largest country in the European Union, has also exerted pressure to call for the restoration of democracy and sent its foreign minister to meet with the foreign minister of the military government in Bangkok.

Online negotiations are scheduled to start at 4:00 pm (0800 GMT), and a diplomat told AFP that ministers may “demand the Myanmar military to stop violence and attacks on the people”.

The diplomat, who asked not to be named, said: “ASEAN will also require the military to engage in dialogue with all parties including (Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy).”

But observers are skeptical of what changes the EU will produce, point out the EU’s non-interference policy, and make decisions based on consensus.

Singapore has stated that it does not need to impose broad sanctions on Myanmar because it is worried about harming ordinary people.

Several ASEAN members, such as Thailand and Cambodia, have their own authoritarian governments and are likely to block any real action.

Oh Ei Sun, an analyst from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told AFP that nothing more than “strong language” could be expected from ASEAN.

Countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Laos “have their own regime survival to worry about so I don’t think they are too keen to advocate for intervention. And they wouldn’t want similar intervention to fall upon them”, he said. 

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