US president calls on Myanmar generals to relinquish power and return government control to civilian leaders

United States President Joe Biden on Wednesday said the US will impose sanctions on Myanmar’s military leaders following their coup d’etat and called for a return of power to civilian leaders.

In televised remarks at the White House, Biden condemned the military’s takeover from the civilian-led government and its detention of the country’s elected leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Today, I am announcing a series of actions that we are taking to begin imposing consequences on the leaders of the coup,” Biden said.

“The US government is taking steps to prevent the generals from improperly having access to the $1bn in Burmese government funds being held in the United States,” Biden said. (Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is sometimes still called by that name in the US).

In addition, Biden announced new direct sanctions against “the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests as well as close family members”.

The US will announce a first round of sanctions this week and will impose export controls on Myanmar while still providing medical aid and humanitarian relief, the US president said.

Democratically elected leaders of Myanmar were detained by military forces under the command of Myanmar Senior General Min Aung Hlaing early on the morning of February 1.

Military authorities invalidated the results of Myanmar’s November election and imposed a nationwide state of emergency marked by curfews in Myanmar’s two biggest cities.

Large public protests have broken out in Myanmar’s capital of Naypyidaw and its largest city, Yangon, as thousands of protesters have taken to the streets.

“The people of Burma [Myanmar] are making their voices heard and the world is watching. We’ll be ready to impose additional measures, and we’ll continue to work with our international partners to urge other nations to join us in these efforts,” Biden said.

International concern has been rising about the military coup in Myanmar. The United Nations Security Council issued a statement on February 4 “expressing deep concern at the declaration of the state of emergency imposed in Myanmar by the military”.

Biden on February 2 had called for the military coup’s leaders to relinquish control and free detained political leaders, and he threatened to reimpose sanctions on those responsible for the coup.

Biden has bipartisan support among Republicans and Democrats in the US Congress for the sanctions. Biden said he has consulted with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on steps the US should take.

“I’ve been encouraged over the past week by the diplomatic efforts undertaken by the administration to demonstrate the United States’ condemnation of the [Myanmar] military’s flagrant assault on political rights,” McConnell said on February 8.

“It’s time to follow up with meaningful costs on those who aid and abet the suffocation of Burmese democracy,” McConnell said.