The United States is threatening to reimpose sanctions on Myanmar’s generals after they seized power in a coup and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose whereabouts remain unknown more than 24 hours after her arrest.
The UN Security Council is due to meet on Tuesday amid calls for a strong global response to the military’s arrest of the Noble Peace laureate and dozens of her political allies in dawn raids on Monday.
The coup followed a landslide win for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in November elections, a result the military has refused to accept citing allegations of fraud.
The army handed power to General Min Aung Hlaing and imposed a state of emergency for a year, crushing hopes the poverty-stricken country, also known as Burma, was on the path to stable democracy after decades of military meddling in politics.
US President Joe Biden said the coup was a direct assault on Myanmar’s transition to democracy and the rule of law.
“The United States removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy.,” Biden said in a statement.
“The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action.
“We will work … to support the restoration of democracy and the rule of law, as well as to hold accountable those responsible for overturning Burma’s democratic transition.”
The crisis in Myanmar is one of the first major tests of Biden’s pledge to collaborate more with allies on international challenges, especially on China’s rising influence. That stance contrasts with former president Donald Trump’s often go-it-alone approach.
The United Nations led condemnation of the coup and called for the release of detainees and restoration of democracy in comments largely echoed by Australia, the European Union, India, Japan and the United States.
China did not join the criticism, saying only that it noted the events and called on all sides to respect the constitution.
Other countries in the region, including neighbouring Thailand, refused to comment on Myanmar’s “internal affairs”.
The whereabouts of Suu Kyi, 75, President Win Myint and other NLD leaders remains unknown, the military giving no information about where they were being held.
Min Aung Hlaing, who had been nearing retirement, promised a free and fair election and a handover of power to the winning party, without giving a time frame.
Suu Kyi called for protests against military dictatorship in a statement prepared in anticipation of her arrest and released on Monday, but there were no reports of unrest.
Her election win followed about 15 years of house arrest between 1989 and 2010 and a long struggle against the military, which had seized power in 1962 and stamped out all dissent for decades before Suu Kyi’s party came to power in 2015.
The latest coup marks the second time the military has refused to recognise a landslide election win for the NLD, having also rejected the result of 1990 polls that were meant to pave the way for civilian rule.
Consolidating the coup, the junta removed 24 ministers and named 11 replacements to oversee ministries including finance, defence, foreign affairs and interior.
One of the key concerns for UN diplomats is the fate of Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minority groups who were driven out of the country and are living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
Bangladesh, which is sheltering about one million Rohingya, called for “peace and stability” and said it hoped a process to repatriate the refugees could move forward.
A 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state sent the Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh.
About 600,000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine, including 120,000 people who are effectively confined to camps, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“Our fear is that the events may make the situation worse for them,” he said.