Myanmar coup an 'enormous, tragic step back': PM Lee

In BBC interview, he says Myanmar's use of lethal force on civilians, unarmed demonstrators 'unacceptable'

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, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

And if the Myanmar population decide 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).

PM Lee also called for the military regime that seized power last month 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 dead and over a thousand arrested.

Amid growing global condemnation and with Asean foreign ministers meeting to discuss the situation yesterday, Myanmar's military has asked security forces not to use live ammunition to disperse crowds.

In the interview with Asia business correspondent Karishma Vaswani on BBC's Talking Business Asia programme, PM Lee said the situation in Myanmar was a throwback to 1988 where a cocktail of bloody riots, military power and martial law became untenable for the country's leaders, who eventually announced a seven-step road map 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 PM Lee.

Ms Suu Kyi and her NLD have succeeded at the polls since and for the military to now take over again is regressive - and "there is no future that way", said PM Lee.

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, he said.


Asked why Singapore had not yet imposed sanctions, PM Lee 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."

PM Lee added: "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."

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.