Myanmar military should step down, free detainees, Biden says in foreign policy speech

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s military should relinquish power and release officials and activists detained in this week’s coup, U.S. President Joe Biden said in his first foreign policy address on Thursday.

U.S. President Joe Biden removes his mask to speak to State Department staff during a visit by Biden at the State Department in Washington, U.S., February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Biden said the United States was working with allies and partners to address the generals’ takeover, during which they arrested elected leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilians.

“There can be no doubt in a democracy force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election,” said Biden.

“The Burmese military should relinquish power they have seized and release the advocates and activists and officials they have detained, lift the restrictions on telecommunications and refrain from violence.”

Army commander Min Aung Hlaing took power on Monday, saying there were irregularities in a November election that Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide. The electoral commission had said the vote was fair.

A later White House statement said Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, spoke by phone on Wednesday evening with ambassadors from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-member bloc to which Myanmar - which is also known as Burma - belongs.

“Mr. Sullivan conveyed President Biden’s deep concern regarding the coup in Burma and expressed appreciation for ASEAN nations’ attention to this crisis, noting the importance of regional support for the immediate restoration of Burmese democracy,” the statement said.

It said Sullivan also underscored the Biden administration’s commitment to expanding U.S. engagement with ASEAN including on combating climate change, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, promoting economic recovery and advancing maritime security.

Biden threatened on Monday to reimpose sanctions on Myanmar following the coup and said the international community should come together to press the military to relinquish power. He also warned that the United States was “taking note of those who stand with the people of Burma in this difficult hour.”

Sullivan told a White House briefing on Thursday the administration was considering an executive order in response to the coup and potentially targeted sanctions on individuals and military-controlled entities.

Reporting by Alexandra Alper, Steve Holland, Humeyra Pamuk, Simon Lewis and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Grant McCool and Peter Cooney