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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

US calls military acts in Myanmar a coup, UN Security Council takes no action

ARAB NEWS
AGENCIES
February 02, 2021

Myanmar’s police officers stand guard at the entrance of parliament members residence at the congress compound in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Feb. 2, 2021. (Reuters)


  • Biden has threatened new sanctions against the generals who seized power in Myanmar
  • UN envoy urges Security Council to ‘send clear signal’ to support Myanmar democracy

WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS: The US State Department will conduct a review of its foreign assistance to Myanmar after determining that the military takeover in the Asian country this week constituted a coup, senior officials said on Tuesday.

US President Joe Biden has threatened new sanctions against the generals who seized power in Myanmar and detained elected leaders including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi early on Monday.

In a briefing with reporters, State Department officials said Washington has not been in direct contact with the coup leaders in Myanmar or the deposed civilian government leaders.

Under US law, the assessment that a coup has taken place automatically puts restrictions on US assistance, but officials said humanitarian aid, including to the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, and programs that promote democracy or benefit civil society would continue.

“In addition, we will take a broader review of our assistance programs to ensure they align with recent events,” a State Department official said.

US officials would also conduct a review of sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and companies associated with them, the official said.

State Department officials briefed staff from the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday about the situation but did not preview new sanctions, according to aides who were on the call.

US officials were trying to work with European and Asian allies who have contacts with Myanmar’s military, but had not made much progress, lawmakers were told, according to an aide.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has close ties to Suu Kyi, said in a statement he had spoken to Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday about the situation in Myanmar and urged the administration to “impose significant costs on the military for its attack on democracy.”

Meanwhile, the UN envoy for Myanmar urged an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday to ensure that “democracy is expeditiously restored” to the Southeast Asian nation, but the United Nations’ most powerful body took no immediate action.

Christine Schraner Burgener, the Myanmar ambassador who is currently in Europe, strongly condemned the military’s takeover of the government and said the council must “collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar” and ensure the country “doesn’t fall back into isolation.”

Diplomats said restoring democracy was the key element of a draft statement prepared for the council to release to the media after the closed-door meeting, along with a condemnation of the military’s action and call for the immediate release of all those detained.

But the statement was not issued because it requires support from all 15 council members and the UN missions for China and Russia said they needed to send it to their capitals for review, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed. China has close ties to Myanmar.

Schraner Burgener told the council that the Myanmar military’s declaration of a state of emergency and detention of top leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi and dozens of lawmakers and civilian officials just as the new parliamentary session was about to open Monday “was surprising and shocking.”

The military said the seizure of power was necessary because the government had not acted on the military’s unsubstantiated claims of fraud in November’s election in which Suu Kyi’s party won a majority of seats.

Britain’s UN ambassador, Barbara Woodward, the current council president, told reporters after the meeting that ambassadors echoed widespread international concerns about the military’s action at the virtual session.

“And we welcome the role of regional partners ... to resolve this crisis,” including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, she said.

Brunei, which chairs the 10-nation regional ASEAN group, including Myanmar, issued a statement Monday noting the bloc’s principles include “the adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The statement encouraged “the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.”

But it made no mention of any action by ASEAN to take the lead in returning Myanmar to a democratic path.

At the United Nations, Woodward said: “Discussions will continue among council colleagues on next steps. I certainly hope that we will be able to speak with one voice.”

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, called Myanmar “a friendly neighbor” Tuesday and expressed hope that all parties “will properly handle their differences under the constitutional and legal framework and maintain political and social stability.”

“Whatever actions taken by the international community shall contribute to Myanmar’s political and social stability, promote its peace and reconciliation, and avoid escalating the conflict and complicating the situation,” Wang said in Beijing.

Myanmar has been a very difficult issue for the Security Council to take any action, but not impossible.

In November 2017, the council adopted a presidential statement condemning widespread violence in northern Rakhine State and expressing grave concern at reported human rights violations by Myanmar’s security forces against minority Rohingya Muslims. It called on the government to ensure “no further excessive use of military force,” which led 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

Before Tuesday’s council meeting, the UN’s director for the group Human Rights Watch, Louis Charbonneau, said the council’s “abysmal failure to address Myanmar’s past appalling human rights abuses assured the military they could do as they please without serious consequences.”

He called on the council to demand the immediate release of all detained political leaders and activists and the restoration of civilian democratic rule. He said sanctions should be imposed “on those military leaders responsible.”

Amnesty International’s deputy director of advocacy, Sherine Tadros, urged the council to freeze the assets of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, now in charge of the government, and other military leaders responsible for crimes against ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya.

“The Security Council must also impose a comprehensive global arms embargo on Myanmar, and crucially, refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court,” she said.

US President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday called the Myanmar military’s action a coup, setting the stage for sanctions and other measures targeting what State Department officials said was “the very small circle of military generals” responsible.

While the US and other Western nations may impose sanctions on Myanmar, Security Council approval of targeted measures is highly unlikely. That would take a resolution, which China would likely veto.

Getting approval for a press statement remains a possibility, but not a certainty.

Sven Jürgenson, the UN ambassador for council member Estonia, supported the proposed statement, strongly condemning the coup and urging Myanmar’s military to respect the 2008 constitution, allow Parliament to do its work, and “recommit to the peace process.”

(With Reuters and AP)

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