New arrests in Myanmar, as US moves to sanction coup leaders

US goes after Myanmar funds as it increases pressure on generals to relinquish power.

The US says it will slap new sanctions on Myanmar's coup leaders [Chalinee Thirasupa/Reuters]

One of removed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s closest aides was detained overnight in a new wave of arrests following last week’s military coup, according to an official from her party, as US President Joe Biden announced new sanctions on the generals who seized power on February 1.

Kyaw Tint Swe was the minister for the Office of the State Counsellor under Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained in the early hours of the coup and has not been seen since. National League for Democracy (NLD ) information committee member Dr Kyi Toe said Kyaw Tint Swe and four others had been taken from their homes.

In a statement, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which is keeping track of arrests made since the coup, said Kyaw Tint Swe was among four senior officials picked up on the night of February 10. Nyi Pu, the chief minister of Rakhine State, was also among those detained.

A total of 220 people – from NLD politicians to activists, teachers and members of civil society – have been arrested since the military staged the coup, it said, with 200 still in detention.

The arrests followed the fifth day of nationwide protests, which have continued despite a curfew, a ban on gatherings larger than five people and the use of water cannon, tear gas and rubber-coated bullets by the police.

A police officer (second tight) talks with a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party following a raid by the Myanmar military [Lynn Bo Bo/EPA]

On Tuesday, 19-year-old Mya Thwe Thwe Khiang was shot in the back of the head during protests in Naypyidaw, the purpose-built capital of Myanmar. Doctors at the hospital where she is now in intensive care have said they thought she was hit by a live bullet.

The United Nations, the United States and others have urged the military to refrain from violence as they consider various measures, including sanctions, on the coup leaders.

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden announced the first steps the US would take, with further details expected later in the week.

“The US government is taking steps to prevent the generals from improperly having access to the $1bn in Burmese government funds being held in the United States,” Biden said. Myanmar was formerly known as Burma.

In addition, Biden said there would be new direct sanctions against “the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests as well as close family members” although he did not elaborate on how they would work.

‘Nuanced’ step

The move was welcomed by analysts and activists.

“Although the details remain to be fleshed out, this seems like a well-calibrated set of measures by the US,” said Richard Horsey, a senior Myanmar adviser to International Crisis Group. “The freezing of $1bn Myanmar government assets – likely central bank deposits with the Federal Reserve – signals the coup is illegitimate.”

Tun Khin, the president of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK, said the measures were “welcome (and) nuanced” and urged other countries to follow suit.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other senior officers are already subject to sanctions as a result of the brutal crackdown on the Rohingya in 2017, over which Myanmar is being investigated for genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Sanctions were also imposed on earlier military regimes but were criticised for their damaging effect on civilians.

State Department spokesman Ned Price stressed the measures this time would be aimed at the military and structured to ensure medical aid and humanitarian relief could continue.

“It is all part and parcel of a strategy to ensure that those responsible for this coup, those responsible for the overthrow of civilian rule and democracy in Burma face substantial costs, that they face substantial pressure,” he told reporters in a briefing after Biden’s statement.

Horsey, who has spent years following Myanmar politics, cautioned that the Tatmadaw, as the military is known in Myanmar, would be prepared for more sanctions.

“Policymakers must resist the urge to impose progressively harsher measures without a clearheaded cost-benefit analysis,” he wrote on Twitter. “Don’t inflict harm on Myanmar people for the sins of their rulers!”

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters