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Myanmar Crisis

US calls Myanmar takeover 'a coup,' triggering aid restrictions

Washington in daily conversations with Japan and India about situation

Myanmar citizens hold up a picture of leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Bangkok after the military seized power in a coup in Myanmar.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- The U.S. has officially identified the military power grab in Myanmar as a coup, senior State Department officials said Tuesday, a designation that will cut some forms of aid to one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries.

"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 Monday, one of the officials said on a call with reporters, referring to Myanmar by its former name.

Such an assessment automatically triggers certain restrictions in foreign assistance to the government of Myanmar, the official said, adding that "we will undertake a broader review of our assistance programs to ensure they align with recent events."

Washington has also "been in frequent contact with our like-minded allies and partners in the region" about the situation, including daily ongoing conversations with Japan and India, said the official.

When asked if previous U.S. policy on Myanmar has failed given the country's return to military rule, the State Department official noted that the country is "very different than it was 10 years ago," with "a more open civil society, more opportunity for young people."

U.S. assistance that directly goes to Myanmar's government is already "very little, almost none," in part due to various sanctions already in place in response to the Rohingya crisis, the official said.

Restrictions on aid to the country triggered by the coup designation does not apply to humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar including the Rohingya population.

"It was an absolute priority for us to determine exactly what happened, and to be decisive in calling it what it was," U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a later press briefing, when asked how Washington came to the designation of a coup in the case of Myanmar, in comparison to similar designations in the past such as in response to the military takeover in Egypt, which took longer.

"The facts in this case were stark, the facts in this case were clear," Price said.

When asked if the administration is concerned that tough sanctions would push Myanmar's military further toward Beijing, Price said what happened in the country is "certainly" not in the interests of U.S. and its like-minded partners, but "I think you will also find that it's not in the interest of the Chinese."

The formal designation of the military takeover as a coup comes after U.S. President Joe Biden called the events a "direct assault on the country's transition to democracy" and threatened sanctions.

A reversal of Myanmar's democratic progress would necessitate an immediate review of sanctions on the country that had been lifted during former President Barack Obama's administration based on the country's efforts to transition to democracy, Biden said in a Monday statement.

The U.S. president, who had vowed to strengthen American alliances and work with allies on such issues as democracy, also promised to "work with our partners throughout the region and the world to support the restoration of democracy and the rule of law" in Myanmar.

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