The military coup in Myanmar and the turmoil it triggered is threatening to lead to a civil war in the southeast Asian country, Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned in an interview published Sunday.
"No one in the region can be interested in Myanmar sinking into civil war — not even those who are not interested in saving democracy," Maas told the newspapers of the Funke media group.
International pressure is mounting on Myanmar's military leaders over an escalating crackdown on anti-coup protests that has left more than 550 civilians dead.
"The military has driven Myanmar to the brink of disaster within a few weeks. Well over 500 people have already been killed, thousands are on the run," Maas said.
The German foreign minister called on all global players to "increase the pressure on the regime" to bring it to the negotiating table with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
ASEAN pressure mounts on junta
Myanmar's ASEAN neighbors typically refrain from criticizing their fellow members under a principle of non-interference.
But the growing Western pressure on Myanmar's junta and the increasing violence against anti-coup protesters have prompted several southeast Asian foreign ministers to condemn the violence.
China, which has been reserved in its response to the coup, said it supports holding a meeting with regional leaders.
"China...supports the convening of a special meeting of ASEAN leaders to mediate as soon as possible," the Chinese government's top diplomat, Wang Yi, said on Friday.
India, which has also not outright rejected the coup, issued its strongest reaction to the escalating crackdown on demonstrations.
"We believe that the rule of law should prevail. We stand for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar," said Arindam Bagchi, India's foreign ministry spokesman, on Friday.
Armed rebel groups slam military violence
Ten of Myanmar's armed ethnic rebel groups held online talks on Saturday about the coup, according to AFP news agency, sparking concerns that a broader conflict could erupt in the country.
In Myanmar, some 20 ethnic armed groups control large areas of territory, mostly in border regions.
The Ta'ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army (AA) had earlier said if the junta did not stop the bloodshed, they would "cooperate with the protesters and fight back."
Myanmar has long been plagued by fighting between the military and ethnic minority forces. They have fought for more autonomy since Myanmar's independence from Britain in 1948.
What is the situation in Myanmar?
On Sunday, protesters marked the Easter holiday by taking to the streets while holding painted eggs.
Images circulated on social media showed the eggs carried protest slogans and illustrations.
Despite the violence against protesters, they have organized almost daily demonstrations since the coup ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government on February 1.
Demonstrators have found different ways to protest the coup, including organizing rallies, general strikes and throwing piles of garbage in street intersections.
The death toll in the crackdown on anti-coup protesters has risen to 557 as of late Saturday, according to watchdog the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
fb/rs (AFP, AP, dpa, EFE, Reuters)