Asean cannot be indifferent to Myanmar situation, has collective duty to act: PM Lee

Leaders attending the Asean summit on the Myanmar crisis in Jakarta on April 24, 2021. PHOTO: INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE

SINGAPORE - Asean member states have a collective duty to uphold peace, security and stability in the region, and cannot be indifferent to what is happening in Myanmar, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (April 24).

"Silence and inaction would undermine Asean's centrality, credibility and relevance," he said.

Speaking at a meeting of fellow Asean leaders in Jakarta, PM Lee said: "Daily news reports indicate fatalities and injuries so far have cumulatively added up to hundreds, if not in the thousands. There is also a worsening shortage of food, medical supplies and energy. The prospect of a humanitarian disaster is unfolding before us."

Asean members would like to help Myanmar and its people resolve these problems, he stressed, adding that the international community is also watching what Asean does.

"Asean's process and our engagements with external partners must continue," he added.

Six Asean leaders were present at Saturday's meeting, as was Myanmar's de facto leader Min Aung Hlaing, to discuss the situation in Myanmar where hundreds have been killed and thousands imprisoned following a military coup on Feb 1.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was represented by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, while Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and Laotian PM Phankham Viphavanh sent their respective foreign ministers - Mr Don Pramudwinai and Mr Saleumxay Kommasith.

PM Lee highlighted six key points for the path forward, that the other leaders made on Saturday.

1. A cessation of violence in Myanmar.

2. The release of all political detainees.

3. A resumption of political dialogue among all key stakeholders.

4. Asean having to play a constructive role.

5. Facilitating a visit by an Asean delegation.

6. Facilitating humanitarian assistance, led by Asean and involving others.

In his speech, PM Lee reiterated that Singapore strongly opposes the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians under any circumstances.

He called on the military authorities in Myanmar to exercise restraint and stop further bloodshed and violence, as well as to de-escalate the political situation by immediately releasing all political detainees - including ousted President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

"This would be the first step towards the resumption of constructive dialogue among the key stakeholders, with the view of reconciliation and the return to stability in Myanmar," Mr Lee said.

The Prime Minister also noted that Asean and the wider international community - including the United Nations - have offered to help facilitate the resumption of political dialogue and national reconciliation.

An Asean delegation should be allowed to visit Myanmar to facilitate these discussions, he said, adding that UN special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener should also be permitted to visit. "She has over the past three years demonstrated her commitment to reach out and listen to all parties, and to find a way forward," he added.

"Any solution that returns Myanmar to the path of democratic transition must involve both the Tatmadaw, which has always been a key institution in Myanmar's body politic, and also the National League for Democracy (NLD), which commands popular support," PM Lee said.

The Tatmadaw refers to the Myanmar military, which instigated February's coup after Ms Suu Kyi's NLD won an election in November. The junta justified its action by claiming electoral fraud.

Myanmar's Senior General Min Aung Hlaing arriving at the Asean leaders' meeting on the Myanmar crisis in Jakarta on April 24, 2021. PHOTO: INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE

Meanwhile, the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management, or AHA Centre, is ready to help, as are UN humanitarian agencies and other aid groups, he said.

PM Lee also emphasised that Asean has stood by Myanmar in the past, and will continue to do so now.

In the early 2000s, when other countries imposed sanctions on Myanmar, Singapore and Asean maintained open and constructive dialogue with its leaders. They also supported Myanmar on its seven-step roadmap to democracy, which resulted in an elected government taking power in 2015, and the return of Myanmar to the community of nations.

"We hope this time Myanmar will again reciprocate Asean's goodwill and good intentions, and work with Asean to find a path forward," he said.

Ultimately, Myanmar's future must be determined by its own people, Mr Lee added. "But Asean can, and wishes to, play a constructive role to facilitate a durable and peaceful negotiated political solution and Myanmar's return to normalcy and stability.

"Today's meeting is a significant step to doing so," he said.

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