By: Sarwar Alam
The United States is considering new measures to pressure the Myanmar junta to return to a “democratic trajectory”, secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, as alarm grows over an escalating crackdown on dissent.
Myanmar has been in chaos since February when Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government was ousted by the military.
The United States has imposed some sanctions and regional bloc the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has drawn up a peace roadmap, but there are serious doubts about the generals’ commitment.
Speaking during a visit to Malaysia — among several ASEAN states that have strongly criticised the coup — Blinken conceded that the “situation has not improved”.
“I think it is going to be very important in the weeks and months ahead to look at what additional steps and measures we can take — individually, collectively — to pressure the regime to put the country back on a democratic trajectory,” he said.
“That is something that we are looking at,” he added, without saying what the measures might be.
The coup triggered nationwide protests but the junta has responded with a brutal crackdown that has left more than 1,300 people dead and seen thousands arrested, according to a local monitor.
Blinken also said the United States was looking “very actively” at whether the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar might “constitute genocide”.
The group faces widespread discrimination in Myanmar, and hundreds of thousands fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in 2017 following a military crackdown.
– ‘Alarming escalation’ –
Last week, the United Nations warned of an “alarming escalation” of human rights abuses in Myanmar as the military tried to crush dissent.
They were responding to the reported killing of 11 villagers, including children.
The United States said it was “outraged by credible and sickening reports” the military tied up and burned the victims alive.
The junta, locked in a bloody stalemate with militias fighting to overturn the coup, denied the claims.
The generals have shown little sign of changing course despite sustained diplomatic pressure.
ASEAN took the unprecedented step of banning junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from its October summit after the generals refused to let the bloc’s envoy meet Suu Kyi.
But there are signs that Cambodia –- which takes over ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship next year — is seeking to bring Myanmar back into the fold.
Its strongman premier Hun Sen plans to travel to the country for talks in January, becoming the first international leader to visit Myanmar since the coup.
Last week, Suu Kyi was sentenced to two years’ detention for incitement against the military and breaching coronavirus rules, drawing fresh condemnation from around the world.
The junta has justified the coup by alleging electoral fraud in last year’s poll, and Suu Kyi faces a raft of further charges that could see her jailed for decades if convicted.