US announces fresh sanctions against Myanmar junta on third anniversary of military coup

Junta extends state of emergency for six more months

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 01 February 2024 05:42 GMT
FILE: Suu Kyi cautions Myanmar ‘not yet a democracy’

The United States imposed further sanctions while Myanmar’s military rulers extended the state of emergency as the country marked the third anniversary of a coup that sparked nationwide chaos and ended a decade of tentative democracy and economic reform.

The decision to extend the emergency rule for a further six months was taken by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, according to the military-run media outlet Myawaddy. The junta chief said that it was necessary “to bring the nation to a normal state of stability and peace”.

The junta in Myanmar is facing significant challenges due to a pro-democracy rebellion that has evolved into an armed resistance following severe crackdowns on protests and dissent.

Since the military takeover in 2021, Myanmar has been embroiled in conflict, leading to widespread chaos across the nation.

The US sanctions on Wednesday are the most recent measures targeting the resources the junta utilises for aerial bombings against anti-coup forces, which frequently harm civilians, as well as the military’s capacity for arms production.

“We are taking this action to target the regime’s sources of revenue which support military activities against civilians,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement, reiterating Washington’s call for the military to change course.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres stressed “the urgency of forging a path towards a democratic transition with a return to civilian rule”, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

“An inclusive solution to this crisis requires conditions that permit the people of Myanmar to exercise their human rights freely and peacefully. The military’s campaign of violence targeting civilians and political repression must end, and those responsible be held to account,” Mr Dujarric said.

According to the UN, approximately 2.3 million people have been displaced in Myanmar. Efforts by Southeast Asian countries to facilitate dialogue have not yielded results, as the junta remains unwilling to engage in negotiations with groups it labels as “terrorists”.

On Wednesday, Myanmar’s leading resistance group and allied ethnic armed groups battling the military government released a political roadmap to ending military rule and enabling a peaceful transition of power, saying they were open to peace talks with the army if it accepted their terms.

The joint statement outlines several key goals – ending the military’s role in political affairs, bringing all armed forces under the control of an elected civilian government, drafting a new constitution that incorporates federalism and democratic principles, creating a new federal democratic union, and implementing a system of transitional justice.

The new statement is from the National Unity Government, or NUG, established by elected lawmakers who were barred from taking their seats. It claims to be Myanmar’s legitimate government. The other signatories are the Chin National Front, the Karenni National Progressive Party and the Karen National Union, all in active combat against the military government.

“After three years, the Spring Revolution is stronger than ever,” Duwa Lashi La, the acting president of the NUG, said.

“With each passing day, we are edging closer to victory. The criminal military will never crush the will of the people.”

A separate coalition of ethnic armed organisations, known as the Three Brotherhood Alliance or 3BHA, initiated a major offensive at the end of October last year and since then, they have successfully overrun numerous military outposts and taken control of several towns in the northern region of Myanmar, close to the border with China.

The Three Brotherhood Alliance is made up of ethnic armed groups – the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group, over 4,400 people have lost their lives in the crackdown on opposition to the coup, and some 20,000 people have been detained for their political views.

The military in Myanmar pledged to conduct an election and restore the country to the quasi-civilian governance system that it had previously established. However, in a move that contradicts this, the military dissolved at least 40 political parties and imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi, sentencing her to 33 years in prison, which was later reduced to 27 years. Her supporters argue that these charges are politically motivated.

“The military’s hold on power is more uncertain than at any time in the last 60 years,” Dr Richard Horsey, a senior adviser at the non-profit International Crisis Group told Reuters.

“But it seems determined to fight on, and retains an enormous capacity for violence, attacking civilian populations and infrastructure in areas it has lost, using air power and long-range artillery.”

Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar said in a statement: “The military’s already limited territorial control is rapidly crumbling. The shrinking military force, driven by high casualty and defection rates, surrenders and recruitment challenges, poses an existential threat to the junta.”

“On the third anniversary of the junta’s military coup, the people of Myanmar need and deserve more from the international community than statements or disjointed actions. Now, more than ever, is the time for coordinated international action that supports the heroic efforts of the people of Myanmar while degrading the junta’s ability to brutalise its own people,” he added.

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