The United States on Tuesday declared the military roundup of civilian leaders in Myanmar a coup and said it would look for ways to impose more sanctions or other penalties on the country’s military and officers.
The military power grab poses challenges for the two-week-old Biden administration, which says it wants to support wobbly democracy movements globally but also wants to avoid driving countries like Myanmar toward China.
And with Myanmar’s generals already under U.S. sanctions over the brutal campaign against the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, it was unclear how much impact any new penalties could have. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, an ardent supporter of Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, called Tuesday for “the strongest possible sanctions” and a U.S.-led effort to rally international condemnation against the coup leaders, including in the United Nations.
Biden administration officials had held off on describing the military’s weekend roundup as an outright takeover. The country’s military leaders said in a televised address they were taking power for a one-year state of emergency and claimed their move was lawful under the constitution. State Department officials said Tuesday they were satisfied the move met the legal definition of a coup.
The United States would “work closely with our partners throughout the region and the world to support respect for democracy and the rule of law in Burma, as well as to promote accountability for those responsible for overturning Burma’s democratic trajectory,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. Burma is the former name of Myanmar.
Whatever penalties the U.S. decides on will spare direct humanitarian aid to the country’s people, the State Department said.
The weekend military roundup swept up Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her years leading Myanmar’s oppressed democratic opposition while under military house arrest, and other political and elected officials. Hundreds of parliament members were confined to a government housing complex.
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