Singapore’s Balakrishnan on regional tour amid Myanmar crisis

Foreign minister’s visit to Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia comes amid continuing unrest in Myanmar following the February 1 coup.

Myanmar was plunged into turmoil when the military seized power on February 1 [Reuters]

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan will visit Brunei on Monday, after which he will go to Malaysia and Indonesia, the foreign affairs ministry said, amid calls for Southeast Asian leaders to hold a summit on Myanmar’s political crisis.

The ministry did not elaborate on the reasons for Balakrishnan’s regional tour, beyond affirming the close and longstanding special relationship between Singapore and Brunei.

Last week Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for an end to bloodshed in Myanmar, where people have been protesting against the February 1 military coup, and for Southeast Asian leaders to hold a high-level meeting to try to find a way out of the country’s escalating crisis.

Balakrishnan is scheduled to arrive in Malaysia on Tuesday for a two-day visit, where he is expected to discuss bilateral, regional and international issues with his counterpart Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry said.

“Both foreign ministers will also explore post-COVID-19 collaboration, including reciprocal vaccination certification, which will benefit both the nations,” it said in a statement.

Balakrishnan is also scheduled to meet Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin who backed Widodo’s call for an emergency summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the situation in Myanmar.

Brunei is currently chairing the group, which operates on the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other members and reaches decisions by consensus.

Myanmar, which was allowed to join ASEAN under a previous military government in 1997, has been in crisis since the generals arrested civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and took control of the country with tens of thousands taking to the streets calling for the restoration of democracy.

“The Myanmar army is killing people every day,” said Charles Santiago, a Malaysian MP and Chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) as he urged ASEAN to do more. ”

Statements are welcome, but are useless against the military’s bullets. ASEAN and the UN must join forces to coordinate a strong and decisive response before the military becomes totally out of control. It’s time the courageous people of Myanmar feel that there is somebody out there to protect them.”

At least 250 people have now been killed since the military coup, according to figures from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been tracking arrests and deaths since the coup. Some 2,665 people have been detained and 2,290 remain in custody, it said.

A meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers on March 2 to discuss the crisis urged the military to release Aung San Suu Kyi and other elected officials and condemned the military’s use of lethal force against protesters but failed to make a significant breakthrough.

The coup has been condemned by the United Nations and many Western democracies. The United States and United Kingdom have tightened sanctions on the generals who led the coup and the European Union is expected to announce action against 11 military and police officers later on Monday.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters