Myanmar crisis affects Asean members differently but bloc united in its approach, says Singapore minister

YANGOON/JAKARTA, Feb 6 (The Straits Times/ANN): How the Myanmar crisis unfolds will naturally affect the country’s immediate neighbours more than others in Asean, and there are different levels of anxiety and concern in the region, said Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

He stressed, however, that there is a need for Asean to maintain unity in its approach, which is why the bloc continues to emphasise its proposed peace plans and the need for national reconciliation in Myanmar.

The regional grouping had in April 2021 drawn up peace plans with Myanmar after its military launched a coup against the democratically elected government in February that year.

But these plans have hardly made progress, and thousands of people have been killed following the coup, and the nation has been left in chaos.

In an interview with reporters from Singapore on Saturday after Asean foreign ministers held two days of meetings, Dr Balakrishnan was asked if the crisis in Myanmar would affect Asean unity, given that there might be differing opinions on how to handle the situation there.

“If things get far worse, and you get heavy flows of refugees, obviously it affects the immediate neighbours more than it affects those who are farther away. So to say that there are different levels of anxiety and concern is a fair statement,” he said.

But he underscored that in discussions among the leaders, there is consensus that Asean must stay united in how it deals with the Myanmar crisis.

“We are all completely united in calls for cessation of violence, for national reconciliation, on the need to engage all stakeholders, and the need to continue to support the people of Myanmar through the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” he said.

The minister added that while there might be different emphases on concerns, there is unity and common purpose in affirming, fulfilling and implementing the Asean five-point consensus peace plans. The five points are: an immediate end to violence in the country; dialogue among all parties concerned; the appointment of an Asean special envoy to facilitate mediation; the provision of humanitarian assistance by Asean; and a visit by the special envoy to Myanmar to meet all parties.

When asked what Singapore and Asean would do should the situation worsen in Myanmar and should there be an overflow of refugees from the country, Dr Balakrishnan said the most important thing to do right now is to stop the violence internally.

“If that can be achieved, or it is making progress starting that process, I think that will lower the temperature. It will lower the level of violence, and certainly lower the probability of it,” he added. - The Straits Times/ANN

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