Singapore has financial leverage to pressure Myanmar - U.S. official

FILE PHOTO: Myanmar soldiers walk along a street during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

(Reuters) - Singapore has the ability to wield its significant financial leverage over Myanmar's military rulers to pressure them to return to a path of democracy amid a deteriorating humanitarian and economic crisis, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

Speaking in a teleconference from Jakarta, Counselor of the U.S. State Department Derek Chollet said partnerships with countries in the region were critical to pressuring Myanmar as it risks becoming a "failed state in the heart of Asia".

Noting U.S. measures to sanction individuals and entities associated with Myanmar's military rulers who seized power in Feb. 1 coup, Chollet said Singapore also possessed leverage.

"Singapore has a very important role to play and we had a very good discussion with our partners there about the way it has, and is going to continue to work together to bring whatever leverage we can over the regime to put Burma back on the course to democracy," he said.

Chollet was speaking on the back of a three-day trip to the region where he met with the foreign ministers of Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia.

On Wednesday, he tweeted about meeting the Monetary Authority of Singapore and discussing "ways to limit the Burmese military regime's access to overseas financial assets".

Singapore's foreign ministry did not immediately have comment.

The wealthy city-state has been Myanmar's biggest source of foreign investment in recent years, and advocacy groups have urged it to cut such economic ties in order to pressure the junta.

Chollet said his discussions in the region had been about working with countries to help restore democracy in Myanmar, end violence, and secure the release of political prisoners like American journalist Danny Fenster.

The decision last week by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to exclude Myanmar's junta from an upcoming summit was one example of how international pressure can work to pressure the regime, he said.

(Reporting by Kate Lamb; Writing by Martin Petty and by Timothy Heritage)

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