US, Singapore 'deeply concerned' for Myanmar: Vivian Balakrishnan

In this photo taken on May 23, 2021, protesters are holding flags and placards during a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei, Myanmar. PHOTO: DAWEI WATCH/AFP

WASHINGTON - Singapore and the United States are "deeply concerned and anxious" about the plight of the people of Myanmar, Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said on Wednesday (Sept 29).

The people of Myanmar were already facing tough economic challenges and the coronavirus pandemic has further affected the country, Dr Balakrishnan told The Straits Times during his visit to Washington.

The issue of Myanmar had come up in Dr Balakrishnan's meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday, he said.

The foreign minister cited rising poverty, political instability following a Feb 1 military coup and the violence it had generated, as concerns that the US and Singapore shared over Myanmar.

The US and Singapore believe, however, that the solution ultimately lies within Myanmar itself, he said.

"The people, the leaders - and the leaders across the entire political spectrum - need to sit down, negotiate, discuss in good faith for the sake of the future," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"We can't force this, but we can try to encourage, we can try to cajole, we can try in our own ways, to nudge them in that direction."

Dr Balakrishnan said he has yet to see any sign of this, however.

"I hope I am wrong and I hope they are actually having discussions," he said.

"Asean is obviously trying to help, we are waiting for our Special Envoy, Dr Erywan, to be given access to all parties and for him to be able to help facilitate these discussions."

Dr Balakrishnan was referring to Brunei's Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Erywan Yusof, who was nominated as Asean's Special Envoy to Myanmar in August.

Remote video URL

"I'm afraid there are no quick and easy solutions, but to the maximum extent possible, where we can help, we will help," the foreign minister said.

"So far in response to the humanitarian crisis, Singapore has sent medical supplies. We are working through the Myanmar Red Cross, and we will also see whether there are other channels, other avenues through which we can deliver assistance effectively."

Myanmar's currency has lost more than 60 per cent of its value in less than five weeks in a collapse that is driving up food and fuel prices.

In its last assessment in late August, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Unocha) said that at least 125,000 people had been affected by monsoon floods across various regions and states in the country.

Mr Antony Blinken (left) shakes hand with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan at the State Department in Washington, on Sept 27, 2021. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Thousands have been displaced following armed clashes between the "People's Defence Forces" and the Myanmar army in Sagaing Region, according to local partners, Unocha reported.

Clashes in Chin State had, as at Aug 17, displaced nearly 16,700 people there. Meanwhile in the south-east, "an estimated 141,200 people remain displaced, mostly in Kayah and Kayin states, due to clashes and insecurity since Feb 1", the assessment said.

"Food insecurity is becoming an evolving concern, with reports of food shortage in displacement sites and communities in northern Shan and Rakhine states," the UN warned.

"As at Aug 27, 45 per cent of the US$276.5 million (S$376 million) requested under the Humanitarian Response Plan, and over 10 per cent of the US$109 million requested under the Interim Emergency Response Plan have been funded," Unocha said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.