Myanmar’s military has staged a coup and detained senior politicians, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (Feb. 1)
WASHINGTON – The State Department declared Tuesday that the military takeover in Burma – also known as Myanmar – was a “coup d’etat.”
That formal determination means the U.S. will review foreign assistance to the country. However, the impact of the official “coup” label may be minimal because humanitarian aid is exempt and other U.S. limits are already in place on Myanmar’s military.
On Monday, the military seized control of the government and detained the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, along with Myanmar President U Win Myint and others.
“The facts in this case were stark,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday. He said the State Department began reviewing events immediately and that it was a priority “to be decisive in calling it what it was.”
A State Department official, who briefed reporters earlier Tuesday, called on the Burmese military leadership to release Suu Kyi and other detainees “immediately and unconditionally.”
On Monday, President Joe Biden denounced the military takeover as “a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy.”
He noted that the U.S. had lifted sanctions on Burma over the past decade as it took steps toward democracy. “The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action,” the president said.
Congress appropriated about $135 million in foreign aid for Burma during fiscal year 2020, according to government figures. Price said about the same amount is budgeted for 2021.
He said the “vast majority” of that money is devoted to humanitarian assistance, democracy reforms and other initiatives that are exempt from the restrictions triggered by a coup. Almost no U.S. money goes directly to the Burmese government; instead it flows to civil society groups and other organizations, he said.
In 2017, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Burmese officials that human rights group say were involved in committing atrocities against the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group.
Human Rights Watch and other groups have said the Burmese military subjected the Rohingya to forced deportations, summary executions, systematic mass rape, and torture. The UN called the persecution “ethnic cleansing” and estimates that it led to the displacement of over 700,000 Rohingya.
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