US President Joe Biden has announced a series of sanctions on the military leaders of Myanmar in response to their recent action to overthrow a democratically elected leadership in a coup.
Tens of thousands have turned out in street protests against the February 1 coup, which overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in the South East Asian country, despite a recent ban on large gatherings and a night curfew.
“Today I’m announcing a series of actions that we’re taking to begin imposing consequences on the leaders of the coup. The US government is taking steps to prevent the generals from improperly having access to the $1 billion in Burmese government funds held in the United States,” Biden told reporters at the White House.
In his first public address on the situation in Myanmar, which the US and several other western countries continue to call it by its previous name of Burma, Biden demanded that military must relinquish the power it seized and demonstrate respect for the will of the people of Burma as expressed in their November 8th election.
Biden said he has approved a new executive order enabling US to immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests, as well as close family members.
“We will identify a first round of targets this week. We are also going to impose strong export controls. We are freezing US assets that benefit the Burmese government, while maintaining our support for healthcare, civil society groups, and other areas that benefit the people of Burma directly,” he said.
As protests grow, violence against those asserting their democratic rights is unacceptable, Biden said the US is going to keep calling it out. “The people of Burma are making their voices heard. And the world is watching,” he said.
Last week, the United States helped bring together the UN Security Council, which issued a strong statement in support of Burmese democracy. This week, the administration will use its renewed engagement on the Human Rights Council to strengthen the world’s commitment to human rights in Burma, he said.
“Today, I again call on the Burmese military to immediately release the democratic political leaders and activists that they’re now detaining, including Aung San Suu Kyi. And also Win Myint, the President,” he said.
Biden said that the assault on Burma’s transition to democracy remains an issue of deep bipartisan concern. “We’ve consulted at length, for example, with Senator McConnell, who’s had a very keen interest in this, and his team. We welcomed their helpful insights,” he said.
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that as protests grow, Burma’s military leaders need to know that violence against those who peacefully assert their democratic rights will not be tolerated. The United States will take note of those who stand with the people of Burma at this moment of crisis, he asserted.
Price said the US stands with the people of Burma and support their right to assemble peacefully, including their right to protest peacefully in support of the democratically elected government, the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information both online and offline.
“The fact that we continue to see these demonstrations throughout the streets in Burma indicate where the Burmese people are, what their aspirations for democracy are. We will stand with them,” he said.
Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed Biden’s announcement that his administration will take concrete and targeted measures to demonstrate to the Burmese military that their actions are unacceptable.
“As I’ve said before, there must be real consequences if Aung San Suu Kyi and the rest of Burma’s elected leaders are not immediately freed and allowed to resume their rightful place at the head of a civilian government,” he said.
Meanwhile, Congressman Gregory Meeks, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Ami Bera, Chairman of Asia, the Pacific,
Central Asia, and Nonproliferation Subcommittee, on Wednesday held a briefing on the situation in Burma.