No longer life as usual for Singaporeans in Myanmar as escalating protests put some on edge

Mr Kenneth Lim intends to wait out the situation in Myanmar and will decide whether to return to Singapore by the end of February. PHOTO: COURTESY OF KENNETH LIM

SINGAPORE - Demonstrations erupting throughout Myanmar following the Feb 1 military coup have Singaporeans living there worried.

Take Mr Kenneth Lim, 58, who went out grocery shopping on Wednesday (Feb 10) for first time since last week.

"I'm planning to have a steamboat meal by myself, just to reduce the stress of being cooped up," said the senior executive of a real estate development firm in Yangon.

Mr Lim, who lives alone in Myanmar and has a wife and daughter in Singapore, now takes precautions when leaving home and plans his driving route carefully - timed down to the minute - so he does not get caught in the protests.

Since Feb 6, protesters have gathered in the thousands across major cities in Myanmar.

Demonstrations have largely remained peaceful, though police deployed water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds on Tuesday. Martial law was imposed in cities like Yangon and Mandalay, with a curfew from 8pm to 4am. Protests have been banned and gatherings of more than five people are not allowed.

"In Yangon, the demonstrations still go on. There are also a lot of rumours flying around. It is definitely more tense than last week," said Mr Lim.

The firm Ms Joyann Lim works for in Yangon was closed earlier this week, and the digital marketer said her bosses are thinking of asking people to go on leave.

"Everyone's heart is not at work, as quite a few of my colleagues are locals," said Ms Lim, 27, who has been in Myanmar for four years.

She does not take any particular precautions but has registered her residence in Myanmar with Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

Ms Joyann Lim (in black) at the protests in Yangon. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF JOYANN LIM

Ms Wang Lijun, who has lived in Myanmar since 2012, spent some time on the streets of Yangon this week observing the protests.

"I wanted to get a sense of what's happening on the ground," said the 34-year-old director of a consumer goods company. She is in Myanmar with her Singaporean husband.

"Emotions are running very high. There are large crowds but it's overall peaceful," said Ms Wang, who is a member of the Singapore Association Myanmar, which has about 200 members.

Ms Wang Lijun has lived in Myanmar since 2012. PHOTO: COURTESY OF WANG LIJUN

SAM's president Lee Leong Seng told ST earlier that it plans to link up with as many Singaporeans as possible so it can share information with them.

Those interviewed said it has been a challenge to stay connected with loved ones and updated on the news, as Internet and phone services have been intermittent in the last week.

The Internet was shut down over the weekend, and connection has been unstable ever since the military detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party on Feb 1.

The military said the coup and the arrests were due to alleged voting fraud in the 2020 elections, which saw the NLD secure a landslide victory.

Patchy Internet connection has disrupted online lessons for 17-year-old student Ethan Swee, who lives in Yangon with his parents and younger brother. They have been in Myanmar since 2019 since his father's posting there for work.

"Every night, the schools sends out an e-mail to update on whether there are lessons tomorrow, this usually depends on whether there is Internet or not," he said.

Most Singaporeans in Myanmar receive daily messages and e-mails from MFA, which updates them on the available relief flights or safety precautions.

MFA on Feb 1 advised Singaporeans to remain vigilant, monitor local news and to follow the advice of local authorities.

Those interviewed are intending to stay for at least a few more weeks.

"I'm giving myself until the end of February to assess the situation and make a decision," said Mr Lim.

For Ms Wang, she will take her cue from the Singapore Embassy in Yangon and her company's business continuity plans.

"If we receive the word from them to go, we will have to put personal safety as a priority," she said.

However she believes that remaining in Myanmar during this time can also provide moral support for local colleagues and friends.

"For those who have been living here for a long, we want to be here as much as possible to encourage (the locals)," she said.

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