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Myanmar army tells UN envoy it is ready to weather sanctions

Deputy military chief tells UN special envoy it will withstand retaliative measures

NEW YORK: Myanmar's military said it is ready to withstand sanctions and isolation after its Feb 1 coup, a top United Nations official said on Wednesday as she urged countries to "take very strong measures" to restore democracy in the South-east Asian nation.

UN special envoy on Myanmar, Ms Christine Schraner Burgener, said 38 people died on Wednesday - the most violent day since the coup - as the military quelled protests.

Ms Schraner Burgener said that in conversations with Myanmar's deputy military chief Soe Win, she had warned him that the military was likely to face strong measures from some countries and isolation in retaliation for the coup.

"The answer was: 'We are used to sanctions, and we survived'," she told reporters in New York.

"When I also warned they will go in an isolation, the answer was: 'We have to learn to walk with only few friends'."

Western countries, including the United States, Britain, Canada and the European Union, have implemented or are considering targeted sanctions to squeeze the military and its business allies.

Ms Schraner Burgener said she believes the military is "very surprised" by the protests against the coup.

"Today, we have young people who lived in freedom for 10 years, they have social media, and they are well organised and very determined," she said.

"They don't want to go back in a dictatorship and in isolation."

GUNFIRE

This comes after police broke up demonstrations in several places in Myanmar with tear gas and gunfire yesterday as protesters took to the streets again undeterred by the rising death toll.

The United Nations human rights chief, Ms Michelle Bachelet, called on the security forces to halt what she called their "vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters".

At least 54 people had been killed in total but the actual toll could be much higher, she said. More than 1,700 people had been arrested, including 29 journalists.

"We know that we can always get shot and killed with live bullets but there is no meaning to staying alive under the junta," activist Maung Saungkha told Reuters.

Earlier yesterday, five warplanes made several low passes in formation over Mandalay, residents said, in what appeared to be a show of military might.

Meanwhile, at least 19 Myanmar police officers have crossed into India to escape taking orders from a military junta, an Indian police official said yesterday, adding that more were expected.

The Singapore government yesterday urged its citizens currently in Myanmar to leave as soon as they can.

A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs(MFA) also asked Singaporeans to avoid travelling to Myanmar.

"In view of the rapidly escalating clashes between protesters and the Myanmar security forces and increasing number of civilian casualties in Myanmar, Singaporeans are strongly advised to defer all travel to Myanmar at this time," said the MFA.

"Singaporeans currently in Myanmar should also consider leaving as soon as they can by commercial means while it is still possible to do so." - REUTERS, THE STRAITS TIMES

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