Singapore-led ASEAN must take immediate, concrete action in Myanmar to prevent bloodshed

Today, I read the sad news in TODAY that carried an AFP report that at least five monks and one civilian were killed by Myanmar’s security forces. Witnesses said they saw one monk with a gunshot wound to the head.

Channel NewsAsia reported that two monks were beaten to death by riot police. A total of four people were reported killed when security forces used live ammunition on protesters.

The Irrawady has reported that on Sep 26, three monks were shot by military and riot police forces in Ahlone Township. Two monks and one nun were reportedly shot by military forces near Sule Pagoda. Another source told The Irrawaddy earlier that one of the injured died, but the report cannot be confirmed. At least two protestors were shot by security forces in downtown Yangon near Sule Pagoda. One protestor reportedly died, according to people who took part in the demonstration. The source said the soldiers continued firing at the demonstrators, who numbered several thousand. At the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, riot police beat some monks and dragged others away into waiting trucks.

I expect that these are just the opening volleys. A dawn to dusk curfew has already been ordered. The suffering people of Myanmar are not going to just give up and stay home. They know there is no turning back. They are going to continue to come out on the streets, violating the curfew. The military, sensing the threat to its existence, is going to start using Tiananmen-style measures to suppress them. This might include rolling out tanks and machine-gunning down crowds of unarmed civilians. An estimated 3,000 students and monks died in the pro-democracy uprising in 1988.

As all this murder is being committed against unarmed civilans, what is ASEAN doing? What is Singapore, the current chairman of ASEAN doing?

The Singapore Government has issued several statements voicing “concern” for the situation. It is quite obvious that our government cares more about the damage Myanmar is doing to ASEAN’s credibility, than the deaths of the protesters.

Singapore is now throwing its support behind the UN mission to Myanmar, which is led by Dr Ibrahim Gambari, a former Nigerian diplomat. While I applaud Dr Gambari and the UN’s effort, why is it that ASEAN cannot take the lead to bear down pressure on the military junta not to massacre its own people again, like it did 19 years ago?

Singapore is now the chairman of ASEAN. The Singapore Government’s lack of leadership in the situation in Myanmar makes me feel ashamed — absolutely ashamed — as a Singaporean!

The Government will reiterate its excuse that the generals do not listen to us. So do we think that they will listen to a non-Asian diplomat from the UN? The fact is that besides China and India, ASEAN wields the most influence over that reclusive regime.

Singapore should be assembling together a high-level ASEAN mission comprising at least Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines to make a immediate trip to Myanmar’s capital to warn the generals not to open fire into the protesting crowds, and threaten to suspend Myanmar from ASEAN if it does so. Forget the so-called principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of fellow ASEAN members. This situation calls for concrete action! ASEAN has a responsibility to protect the people of Myanmar and prevent massive bloodshed.

Even if the Myanmar authorities refuse to entertain the ASEAN mission, there are still other avenues to pursue. ASEAN could approach China and India, Myanmar’s strongest backers, to call on them to turn the screw on the junta. These two countries have tremendous leverage on the generals, because they are the lifeline of support (both financial and diplomatic) for the regime. It is in both their interest that the situation in Myanmar doesn’t boil over, because it will affect their own credibility, especially Beijing’s, as it is hosting next year’s Olympic Games.

The time for action is NOW. We must not wait for the soldiers to spray bullets and roll tanks into crowds of monks, nuns and students before we issue statements of “regret”. The ASEAN Summit celebrating the grouping’s 40th Anniversary is going to be held in Singapore in November. Does the Singapore Government want to lay out the red carpet for the generals whose hands are still dripping with the fresh blood of their own people?

Singaporeans can take action too. You can sign a worldwide petition to be sent to the UN Security Council (including China).

Or better still, blog about it to show our government and the people of Myanmar that Singaporeans care. Send a message to our Government that its inaction will have domestic political implications for our leaders too.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

4 thoughts on “Singapore-led ASEAN must take immediate, concrete action in Myanmar to prevent bloodshed”

  1. Hi Gerald,
    Thanks for the posts!
    Let’s hope we can awaken Singaporeans from their apathetic slumber.
    Let’s pray for a peaceful resolution soon.


  2. Get real – what can Singapore or any of the ASEAN countries do? Our own island is mired by the same general-scholar types entrenched in TLC companies, ready to hearken to the master’s voice. Take a look at the line up of the Myanmar generals, change the uniforms, and you have same right here already. What could happen, is for Bush to wake up to the oil reserves offshore Myanmar, and send some aircraft carriers over. It will definitely be easier than knock off Saddam.

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