US has been unable to contact Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar coup aftermath, it says

Robert Delaney
·5-min read

The US government said on Tuesday that it has not been able to contact leading members of Myanmar’s civilian government, including de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and is working with Japan and India to put pressure on the country’s military for deposing the leaders in a “coup d’etat”.

“Our understanding is that most of the senior officials are under house arrest, and the [National League for Democracy] leadership as well as some of the regional government figures and civil society figures, but we’ve not been able to reach them,” a State Department official told reporters.

“We have certainly been in frequent contact with our like-minded allies and partners in the region,” the official said. “We’re having daily ongoing conversations with [Japan and India], and we certainly appreciate that some other countries have better contact with Burmese military than we do so we’re continuing those conversations.”

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The United Nations has also failed to contact Suu Kyi and her political cohorts, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

Christine Schraner Burgener, the UN’s special envoy on Myanmar, “has been trying to raise her regular interlocutors in the country, and as far as I know that has not been 100 per cent successful,” Dujarric said. “She’s also spoken to others outside of the country, but communications remains a very big challenge.”

The envoy has been in contact with the military leadership as recently as one day before the takeover, he added.

The State Department’s determination that Myanmar’s military staged a coup against the NLD-led government and detained Suu Kyi and President Win Myint has triggeredsanctions and restrictions on humanitarian assistance to the government. But the agency official acknowledged that such measures do not provide much leverage because sanctions were already in place against many of the officers.

In 2019, the US imposed sanctions on four Myanmar military leaders, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing – a move authorised by the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act – for suspected human rights abuses against the country’s Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.

Min Aung Hlaing displaced Suu Kyi’s on Monday as Myanmar’s leader after alleging irregularities in the November election that her party won in a landslide.

Biden calls for Myanmar’s military to relinquish power immediately

“The existing sanctions regime that we have in place, including the global Magnitsky sanctions I mentioned, plus other sanctions on human rights abuses, have meant that we have very little to no direct contact or work with Burmese military,” the State Department official said, referring to the country by its former name.

She added that humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya, many of whom have fled the country to escape violence directed against them, would not be stopped as the State Department conducts a review of Washington’s aid to the Southeast Asian nation, which shares a border with China.

Without mentioning China specifically, the official said Myanmar’s return to civilian rule in 2015 allowed the country to “move beyond relying on others in the region that do not respect human rights and democratic institutions”.

Asked about any role Beijing might have played in the coup or communication with the Chinese government about the situation, she said: “I don’t have anything for you on that.”

Security guards are seen at the closed entrance of the City Hall in Yangon, Myanmar, on Tuesday. Photo: Xinhua
Security guards are seen at the closed entrance of the City Hall in Yangon, Myanmar, on Tuesday. Photo: Xinhua

Connections between Myanmar’s new regime and Chinese government, which the administration of President Joe Biden has not yet engaged with since it took power two weeks ago, will nonetheless loom large, said Jonathan Chow, a political science professor at Wheaton College, and Leif-Eric Easley, an international studies professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

Beijing refrained from criticising Myanmar’s government as the Rohingya crisis escalated in recent years and continued to invest in infrastructure in the country, but it remains to be seen whether this week’s coup will be a net benefit for China, the professors pointed out in an essay published on Tuesday by Pacific Forum.

“As Myanmar has moved further into Beijing’s orbit, it is again becoming vulnerable to over-reliance on China, and Chinese diplomatic leverage,” they said. “The return to military rule will accelerate this process at a time of heightened tension in both Sino-US and Sino-Indian relations.

“Yet, Myanmar’s political volatility also threatens China’s interests in a stable environment for its infrastructure projects and strategy for accessing the Indian Ocean.”

The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to debate how to respond to the situation in Myanmar, but details have not been made public.

Britain, which currently leads the Security Council, called for the body to express “deep concern at the state of emergency imposed by the Myanmar military on 1 February, and the detention of members of the legitimately elected civilian government” and to “condemn the military coup”, POLITICO reported, citing a draft text of the proposal.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a statement on Monday that called the developments “a serious blow to democratic reforms”.

“The 8 November 2020 general elections provide a strong mandate to the National League for Democracy, reflecting the clear will of the people of Myanmar to continue on the hard-won path of democratic reform,” Guterres said.

“The secretary general urges the military leadership to respect the will of the people of Myanmar and adhere to democratic norms, with any differences to be resolved through peaceful dialogue,” he added.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s choice to be UN ambassador, testified at her confirmation hearing last week and is awaiting a Senate vote on her nomination.

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