SINGAPORE, March 2 (Agencies): Singapore's Prime Minister on Tuesday called for Myanmar's military to release elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi to allow the country to move forward and said sanctions would hurt the people rather than the military.
In a transcript of an interview with the BBC, Lee Hsien Loong said the military will have learned from the past that it was in the country's interests for it to work out an arrangement with an elected civilian government, as a military route would lead nowhere.
The military coup in Myanmar is an enormous, tragic step back for the country, and the use of lethal force against civilians and unarmed demonstrators is just not acceptable, said Lee on Tuesday (March 2), reports The Straits Times.
And if the Myanmar population decides the government is not on their side, then the government has a very big problem, he added in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Lee also called for the military regime that seized power in February to release detained state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, to negotiate with her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and to work out a peaceful way forward for Myanmar.
The ongoing political turmoil has sparked nationwide protests with at least 21 killed and over a thousand arrested. Amid growing global condemnation, and with Asean foreign ministers meeting to discuss the situation in the country on Tuesday (March 2), Myanmar's military has asked security forces not to use live ammunition to disperse crowds.
In the interview with BBC's Asia business correspondent Karishma Vaswani on Tuesday, Lee said the situation in Myanmar was a throwback to 1988, when a cocktail of bloody riots, military power and martial law became untenable for the country's leaders, who eventually announced a seven-step roadmap to democracy in 2003.
"We were all sceptical, but they were serious about it, and they did move in that direction systematically, and eventually held elections," said Lee.
Suu Kyi and her NLD have succeeded at the polls since but for the military to now take over again is regressive - and "there is no future that way", said Lee.
"They knew that, that was why they moved forward into elections and a civilian government," he added.
Arresting Ms Suu Kyi and other leaders, and charging her with offences - including one under an obscure law over walkie-talkies - will not help solve the problem, said Lee.
Asked why Singapore had not yet imposed sanctions, he said: "Outsiders have very little influence on this. You can ostracise them, condemn them, and pass resolutions or not, but it really has very little influence on what Myanmar will do.
"It had zero influence the last time round, and the only impact was, for the lack of anybody (else) willing to talk to them, they fell back on those people who were willing to talk to them, which was China, and to some extent, India."
Added Lee: "It was an uncomfortable position for them, but it did not cause them to decide that they must do what the Americans, Europeans, or even the Asean countries would have preferred them to do."
He said Singapore had to express disapproval for a situation that goes against the values of many other countries, and a large part of humanity for that matter.
But it had to also be realistic and consider what taking action would lead to. - Agencies