US in touch with India and Japan on coup in Myanmar: State Department

Terming the detention of Myanmar's top civilian leaders by the military "a coup", a senior State Department official has said that the US is in constant touch with regional allies like India and Japan on the latest developments in Nay Pyi Taw as the two countries have better contact with the military in the Southeast Asian nation.

Myanmar's military on Monday took control of the country for one year and detained top political figures, including de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"We have certainly been in frequent contact with our like-minded allies and partners in the region. You mentioned Japan and India. We're having daily ongoing conversations with them, and we certainly appreciate that some other countries have better contact with the Burmese military than we do, so we're continuing those conversations," a senior State Department official told reporters during a conference call on Tuesday.

The United States categorically said the military action in Burma is a coup.

"After a careful review of the facts and circumstances, 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 February 1," the State Department official said.

Myanmar was called Burma before 1989 when the ruling junta, backed by the armed forces, changed its name. This was done to maintain the country's global image after a total crackdown on a pro-democracy movement.

"We continue to call on the Burmese military leadership to release them (the elected leaders) and all other detained civil society and political leaders immediately and unconditionally," the State Department official said.

The US has denounced in the strongest possible terms Myanmar's military leaders for seeking to reject the will of the people as expressed in democratic elections on November 8 and for taking control of the government.

However, the Myanmar military has justified the seizure of power, saying the government had failed to thoroughly investigate the claims of voter fraud in the polls.

"We continue to stand with the people of Burma, as we have done for decades, in their efforts to achieve democracy, freedom, peace, and development," said the US official.

This assessment, the official said, triggers certain restrictions in foreign assistance to the government of Myanmar and the US would undertake a broader review of its assistance programmes to ensure they align with recent events.

"At the same time, it will continue programmes that benefit the people of Burma directly, including humanitarian assistance and democracy support programmes that benefit civil society," the official said. The US is providing nearly USD 135 million in bilateral assistance to Burma in the financial year 2020. Now, a small portion of that is expected to fall under sanctions.

The return to civilian rule in 2015 had enabled Myanmar to engage with countries and businesses across the globe and move beyond relying on actors in the region that do not respect human rights and democratic institutions.

"The military's actions over the last week, and frankly prior to that, have put that progress at grave risk. A very small circle of Burma's military leaders have chosen their own interests over the will and well-being of the people," the official said.

The Biden administration, the official said, rejects any attempt by the military to alter the outcome of the November 2020 election in Burma.

"And, as President Biden has said, we will take action against those responsible, including through a careful review of our current sanctions posture as it relates to Burma's military leaders and companies associated with them. Most importantly, we will continue to stand with the people of Burma," the official said.

"...we will be conducting a review of all our assistance programmes for Burma. I don't have a timeline for you on that, but we're going to be guided by our longstanding commitment to the people of Burma and their aspirations for democracy, peace, justice, and development," said the official.

Calling the military's seizure of power in Myanmar a "direct assault" on its transition to democracy, US President Joe Biden on Monday had threatened to slap new sanctions on the country.

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