The United States said it has reached a turning point in reaching its objectives to handle the crisis resulting from the Myanmar military’s Feb. 1 coup and pledged its continuous support to the Myanmar people through cooperation with regional countries.
During a trip this week to Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia, US State Department Counselor Derek Chollet, who led an interagency delegation, said Myanmar’s deteriorating situation has been the main focus of the team’s meetings with ASEAN partners at each stop.
The trip followed ASEAN’s decision last week not to invite the junta leader to its summit next week—a decision the US counselor said was “an example of how international pressure can make a difference.”
The counselor said the US and ASEAN countries agreed on the overall objectives of pushing the regime to put Myanmar back on the path to democracy, to cease the violence, and to release all those unjustly detained, and to adhere to ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus set out in April.
Weighing the potential leverage offered by an array of economic, political and diplomatic tools, the counselor said, “We are at an inflection point on how to reach these objectives in Burma,” referring to the country by its former name.
“We are committed to the Burmese people for the long haul, both because it’s the right thing to do and because it is in our strategic interest. Working with our partners in ASEAN and the region must be at the center of our strategy,” he added.
“We do need to be realistic about the limited tools we have to influence the regime, but there are tools we have at our disposal, especially diplomatic pressure, that have helped us make some progress.”
The US is also “committed to staying deeply engaged” in resolving the Myanmar crisis as best it can and as long as it persists, Chollet told The Irrawaddy during a telephone press conference on Thursday.
The US is “in lockstep with our ASEAN partners” to provide humanitarian assistance to Myanmar’s people, as the humanitarian situation in Myanmar “is deteriorating rapidly,” he said.
The US and Thailand on Tuesday discussed providing critical humanitarian aid to the Myanmar people though the Thai-Myanmar border, while the US and Singapore discussed finding ways to limit the regime’s overseas financial assets on Wednesday.
“The confluence of the regime’s violent repression, the widespread prevalence of COVID-19, and a collapsing economy have really devastated the Burmese people and have put us at risk of seeing a failed state in the heart of Asia,” he said.
The US is consulting with its ASEAN partners to identify the potential impacts of using the tools at its disposal, the counselor said, adding that the US’s partnerships with ASEAN at the center will be critical to making progress in the restoration of democracy and freedom in Myanmar.
Kin Moy, principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the US Department of State, said the US won’t pull the trigger “unilaterally”, adding that the delegation had held very close consultations and developed a list of tools during its trip.
He added, “[I]t was very effective, wherever we seemed to go, there was quite a lot of interest in searching for tools that would have an impact.”
From February to date, the Myanmar junta has killed at least 1,183 civilians during lethal crackdowns against peaceful anti-regime protests and arrested more than 9,000 people, according to the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
On Monday, junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing pardoned more than 5,600 political detainees, but at least 110 were rearrested within hours and days.
The US is also closely monitoring the detainees’ releases. The counselor said, “We’re skeptical that this is necessarily genuine and we’re also watching very carefully that this is just not an empty gesture that then is quickly reversed on the ground.”
The US also repeated its call for the release of the American journalist Danny Fenster, 37, who has been detained unjustly since May.
Chollet stressed that the international community has an “urgent responsibility” to pressure the military regime to cease violence, to release those unjustly detained and to respect the will of the Burmese people, who are demanding a return to democracy.
On its engagement with the parallel civilian National Unity Government (NUG), the US said it is “very supportive” of the efforts of the pro-democracy movement, including the NUG and others working to “peacefully restore Myanmar’s path to inclusive democracy.”
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