The United States threatened to reintroduce sanctions against Myanmar’s generals after seizing power in a coup and arresting elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose whereabouts remained unknown on Tuesday more than 24 hours after her arrest.
The UN Security Council was due to convene later on Tuesday, diplomats said, amid calls for a strong global response to the military’s arrest of the Nobel Peace Prize winner and dozens of her political allies on Monday morning.
The coup followed a huge victory for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the November election, a result the military has refused to accept citing allegations of fraud.
The army handed over power to General Min Aung Hlaing and imposed a state of emergency for a year, shattering hopes that the poverty-stricken country, also known as Burma, was on its way to stable democracy after decades of military involvement in politics.
US President Joe Biden said the coup was a direct attack on Myanmar’s transition to democracy and the rule of law, and said his administration would see how other countries reacted.
“The United States has removed sanctions against Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy. The reversal of that progress will require an immediate review of our sanctions laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action,” Biden said in a statement.
“We will work with our partners throughout the region and the world to support the restoration of democracy and the rule of law, as well as to hold those responsible accountable for reversing Burma’s democratic transition,” he said.
The crisis in Myanmar is one of the first major tests for Biden’s promise to work more closely with allies on international challenges, especially on China’s growing influence. That attitude contrasts with former President Donald Trump’s often go-it-alone “America First” strategy.
The United Nations led the condemnation of the coup and called for the release of prisoners and the restoration of democracy in comments largely repeated by Australia, the European Union, India, Japan and the United States.
China did not agree with the condemnation, saying only that it noted the events and called on all parties to respect the constitution. Other countries in the region, including neighboring Thailand, declined to comment on Myanmar’s “internal affairs”.
The streets of Myanmar were silent overnight during a curfew that was already in place to stop the spread of coronavirus. Troops and riot police took up positions in the capital Naypyitaw and the main trade center, Yangon.
On Tuesday morning, telephone and internet connections were up and running again, but usually the lively marketplaces were quiet and the airport in Yangon’s commercial hub was closed.
The banks said they would reopen on Tuesday after canceling services on Monday in the middle of a rush to withdraw cash.
Suu Kyi was unknown
Suu Kyi’s 75 years, President Win Myint and other leaders of the NLD were still unknown, the military did not provide information on where they were held or under what conditions.
My Aung Hlaing, who was approaching retirement, promised a free and fair election and the transfer of power to the winning party without giving a time frame.
Suu Kyi called for protests against the military dictatorship in a statement prepared in anticipation of her arrest and released on Monday, but there were no reports of unrest.
Suu Kyi’s election victory followed about 15 years of house arrest between 1989 and 2010 and a long struggle against the military, which had seized power in a 1962 coup and wiped out all disagreement for decades until her party came to power in 2015.
By consolidating the coup, the junta removed 24 ministers and appointed 11 deputies to oversee ministries including finance, defense, foreign affairs and home affairs.
Buddhist monk Shwe New War Sayadawa, known for his outspoken support for the NLD, was also among those arrested on Monday, his temple said. Monks are a powerful political force in the Buddhist majority Myanmar.
One of the most important issues for UN diplomats is the fate of Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities who were driven out of the country by the military and live in refugee camps in neighboring countries.
Bangladesh, which protects about one million Rohingya, called for “peace and stability” and said it hoped a process of returning refugees could continue.