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Biden administration declares Myanmar military takeover a 'coup d'etat'

The formal declaration triggers a review of U.S. assistance to the Asian nation and of sanctions on military leaders.
Image: Military police stand guard in front of a Hindu temple in the downtown area in Yangon
A military police member stands guard in front of a Hindu temple in the downtown area in Yangon, Myanmar, on Feb. 2, 2021, following the military's detaining of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration declared that Myanmar's military takeover of the government, including the arrest of the country's civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, constitutes a "coup d'etat," a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

"We have assessed that Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma's ruling party and Win Myint, the duly elected head of government, were deposed in a military coup on Feb. 1,” a senior State Department official said in a call with reporters. The official referred to the nation by its former name, Burma. “We continue to call on the Burmese military leadership to release them.”

The formal declaration triggers a review of U.S. foreign aid to Myanmar.

Myanmar is scheduled to receive about $100 million in U.S. assistance this year, largely in humanitarian and direct economic aid, and little of those funds are expected to be restricted by the new review.

In August 2017, the U.S. formally declared military attacks on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar to constitute ethnic cleaning, which resulted in the severing of assistance to the government. Humanitarian assistance in Myanmar, including to the Rohingya population and other vulnerable populations, will continue.

“We'll continue programs for that to the people of Burma that benefit them directly including humanitarian assistance to Rohingya and other populations in need," the official said. The official did not give a timeline for when the review would be completed.

The coup determination will also trigger a review of U.S. sanctions against Myanmar. The four most senior military leaders are already subject to sanctions, including a ban on travel to the United States.

“Since the Rohingya crisis and frankly since the earlier human rights abuses, our cooperation with the Burmese military has been extremely limited to virtually nonexistent.” the official said.

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U.S. government officials have not made contact with Suu Kyi or other civilian leaders since they were placed under house arrest, according to the official.

The Obama administration lifted sanctions on the Myanmar in 2016 after the government undertook a series of democratic reforms that began in 2011 and culminated in the 2015 election of Suu Kyi as a civilian leader alongside the military.

“Burma today is very different than it was 10 years ago,” the official said when asked if the military’s takeover of the government meant the Obama administration’s policy had failed. “There's a more open civil society, more opportunities for young people in Burma. So that's how we assess how our policy has worked in Burma thus far.”