Protesters wearing protective equipment take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on March 4. At least 54 people have been killed by police and military personnel since Feb. 1, according to the UN. (Photo: AFP)
The United States has weighed in on Myanmar’s military junta by imposing trade sanctions as a new measure following sanctions targeting the generals last month.
The move came a day after the military’s bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters who oppose the coup that toppled elected officials, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party won the November 2020 election by a landslide.
At least 38 people were killed on March 3, bringing the death toll to at least 54 since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the United Nations.
The US Commerce Department has imposed export controls on the Ministry of Defense and Home Affairs along with two corporations closely associated with the military — Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanmar Economic Holding Limited.
The two conglomerates are among those used by the military to control large swathes of Myanmar's economy through holding firms and their subsidiaries, with interests ranging from beer to telecoms, mining and real estate.
The US Commerce Department said it is reviewing potential additional measures as warranted by the military’s actions.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price called on the junta to exercise maximum restraint and warned that Washington would take further measures to hold it accountable for the detention of journalists and violence against protesters.
The State Department called on China to play a constructive role to use its influence with the military to bring the coup to an end.
China, a close ally of Myanmar, blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a statement condemning the coup last month.
UN special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener said the military told her that they are used to sanctions and had survived them in the past.
“I also warned they will face isolation, to which they said, ‘We have to learn to walk with only a few friends’,” said Burgener, who held talks with deputy army chief Soe Win in late February.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged security forces to halt their vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters.
“Myanmar’s military must stop murdering and jailing protesters,” said Bachelet, adding “it is utterly abhorrent that security forces are firing live ammunition against peaceful protesters across the country.”
She was “also appalled at the documented attacks against emergency medical staff and ambulances attempting to provide care to those who have been injured.”
At least 54 people have been killed by police and military personnel since Feb. 1, according to the UN rights office.
“The actual death toll, however, could be much higher as these are the figures the office has been able to verify,” it said.
Bachelet has called for the immediate release of all those who remain arbitrarily detained.
“Many of the arbitrary arrests and detentions that have been carried out since Feb. 1 may constitute enforced disappearances,” she warned.
Pope Francis said on March 3 that the aspirations of the people of Myanmar should not be suffocated by violence and called for the release of political prisoners.
The pope’s appeal echoed Catholic bishops from Myanmar who have called on the military to release detained leaders and to pursue dialogue.
Over 1,700 people including government officials, National League for Democracy members, activists, writers, monks and journalists have been detained, according to the UN rights office.