The Asean Foreign Ministers’ meeting this week with Wunna Maung Lwin, a retired army colonel appointed as foreign minister by Myanmar ’s junta, brings to mind comments that Razali Ismail, the United Nations ’ former special envoy to the country, made in March 2004. After meeting with politician Aung San Suu Kyi, who was then under house arrest after years of seeking democracy in military-ruled Myanmar, Razali wrote: “Suu Kyi had come a long way to realise that democracy can only be done through the generals, with the latter still in the driving seat.” Myanmar military urged not to ‘invite’ foreign intervention, as Asean foreign ministers meet Back then, few might have predicted Myanmar’s transition to democracy , which began in 2010 after decades of direct military rule and led to Suu Kyi winning elections in 2015 and November last year. Unfortunately, Razali’s words now seem to hold true again, even if they may be infuriating for millions of internet-savvy young people in Myanmar who have experienced the country’s opening up in the past decade. They have seen free and fair elections and may not have direct memories of previous military crackdowns and brutality , such as in 1988 when the suppression of mass pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the country resulted in thousands of deaths at the hands of the military and other security forces. Today, the visibility and support that Myanmar’s anti-coup movement is receiving on social media and at the international level may have made the military think twice about undertaking mass slaughter. But it has continued to resort to the hiring of thugs to attack and intimidate those opposing their rule. Independent media in Myanmar have reported that knife-wielding people supported by the military ransacked restaurants and threw bricks, while others attacked protesters while brandishing long knives and slingshots. Experts agree the military in Myanmar, because of their vested interests, will never be willing to return to the barracks and will insist on remaining a force in the country’s political and social arenas. Thus, as unpalatable as it seems, they will need to be involved in international efforts to bring democratic government back to Myanmar. Myanmar coup: military rebuffs UN warnings, says it is ‘used to sanctions’ and isolation Myanmar’s protesters have vowed to fight on. But at least 50 have died and over 1,000 have reportedly been detained. They are no match for the brutal force of the Myanmar military, which has shown no qualms about using violence on unarmed demonstrators. Philipp Annawitt, a former adviser to Myanmar’s Parliaments for the UN Development Programme, recently wrote that the current civil disobedience movement would not continue forever, pointing out that Myanmar was a poor country badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, and that “most people can ill afford to miss a pay cheque”. Some young Myanmar people have called for the UN or other countries to intervene, to boot out the junta and prevent further loss of innocent lives. But no country from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) would want or allow this. Such a move could also spark pushback from the military and make the situation more unmanageable and precarious. So as international and regional players rightly withhold official recognition of the regime, they must help to convince Myanmar citizens that external pressure can resolve the stalemate and draw the military to the table for talks with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy to arrive at a new power-sharing arrangement. Tough compromises will have to be made, even if this means that the earlier democratic gains made by the NLD will have to be scaled back or even sacrificed. Alternatively, discussions backed by the UN, the United States, China and Asean – even clandestine ones, such as those that have taken place in the past – must be held to push the power-sharing talks forward. These measures will not assuage anger about the bloodshed. But youngsters in Myanmar calling for the world to reject the military junta must realise that their desire for justice should not overwhelm the need for peace and safety of the population. There must be accountability for the military’s brutality, but the focus now must be on internal political dialogue with the junta to prevent the escalating violence and the continued loss of lives.