U.S. Calls Military Takeover in Myanmar a Coup, Reviews Aid

The U.S. formally declared the military takeover in Myanmar a coup, prompting a review of foreign assistance and the possibility of new sanctions against the country’s leaders.

Many of the officials who orchestrated the coup were also responsible for atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims and already faced punishment from the U.S., a State Department official told reporters Tuesday on condition of anonymity. There’s no timeline for the review, but humanitarian assistance won’t be affected, the official said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. has been coordinating its response with “like-minded” allies in Europe as well as India and Japan. That leaves out China, the most influential country when it comes to Myanmar’s military leadership and its economy.

Military leaders in Myanmar seized power and arrested Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other political leaders in an early-morning raid on Monday. By Tuesday, the military continued to install officials in key posts, including a new governor of the Southeast Asian nation’s central bank. Flights were also suspended through April.

U.S. officials haven’t had any contact with Myanmar’s military leaders or those who were detained, the State Department official said. The official said there was no credible evidence of fraud in the recent elections in which Suu Kyi’s party made gains.

The U.S. has given almost $1.5 billion to programs combating violence and supporting the democratic transition in Myanmar, which American officials still refer to as Burma, since 2012, according to the State Department. The U.S. disbursed $137 million in aid to the country in 2019, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. Most of that money went to health, humanitarian assistance and good-governance programs that likely won’t be affected by the review.

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The U.S. statement, and a meeting on Myanmar at the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, came as the coup leaders continued to further consolidate power.

Residents in Myanmar’s commercial capital, Yangon, banged pots and honked car horns to show their opposition to the coup. Nurses and doctors in some state-run hospitals planned to stop work in protest as well. Military leaders warned people not to arouse unrest or spread rumors on social media.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called for the UN to impose targeted sanctions to hold the military accountable.

“Will Security Council members continue to only talk to each other, and behind closed doors, or finally act firmly to prevent further rights violations and the very real threat of a worsening human rights crisis?” Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Advocacy Sherine Tadros said.

The UN’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, told the Security Council that the recent outcome of the election was a “landslide victory” for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy and that “any election complaints and appeals should be addressed through existing legal mechanisms professionally and impartially.”

“I urge the Council to press for restraint and calm to avoid further deterioration of the current situation and to uphold full respect for human rights and international law,” she said.

Speaking after the Council meeting, U.K. Ambassador Barbara Woodward said discussions will continue on next steps, adding that she hopes “we will be able to speak with one voice.”

Bipartisan Support

A big question now will be the response from China, which maintains broad influence with Myanmar’s leaders. China backed the military junta for more than two decades as the West applied sanctions on the regime and is now seeking to build an economic corridor stretching from landlocked Yunnan province to the Bay of Bengal.

Underscoring bipartisan support in the U.S. for Myanmar’s nascent democracy, Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican leader, said “there are two paths before Burma.”

The country “can continue to grow into a modern Democratic country, connected to the global economy, or remain a corrupt, impoverished authoritarian backwater in the shadow of the People’s Republic of China,” McConnell said.

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