President Joe Biden speaks on the situation in Myanmar in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC on February 10, 2021.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he would impose sanctions on military leaders in Myanmar who led the coup that ousted and detained leader-elect Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and others.

Biden also said the “Myanmar military must give up the power it has seized on February 1” and release its prisoners.

“We will set a first round of targets this week and we will also introduce strict export controls,” said Biden when announcing two new executive orders related to the sanctions.

The president said he would prevent Burmese generals from gaining access to $ 1 billion in Myanmar funds held in the United States.

Biden also said, “We are freezing US assets that benefit the Burmese government and continue to support health care, civil society groups and other areas that directly benefit the people of Burma.”

And he urged the military not to use force against protesters who are exercising their democratic rights to object to the coup.

Biden last week condemned the military takeover of the civilian-led government, describing it as a “direct attack on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law”.

When asked about the sanctions, State Department spokesman Ned Price later said, “We believe we can certainly impose significant costs on those responsible.”

“We can impose costs that are … even steeper” than previous sanctions against Myanmar, Price said.

When asked by a reporter why Biden’s announcement did not include an international reaction to the coup, Price suggested that such a reaction was imminent.

“When you hear more from our partners, it will be very clear that what we are bringing together will impose high and profound costs on those responsible for this coup,” Price said.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) of Nobel Prize winner Suu Kyi won the election in Myanmar in a landslide last November.

But the generals behind the coup have claimed the election was fraudulent.

Myanmar citizens, wearing red clothes that match the NLD color, took to the streets to protest the coup.

In response, the military banned rallies and gatherings of more than five people, as well as motorized processions, and imposed a curfew from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. in Yangon and Mandalay, the country’s first and second largest cities.

The military also banned citizens’ use of the social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram “until further notice”.

The US officially eased previous sanctions against Myanmar in 2012 to allow US dollars to enter the country, while certain investments in the Myanmar Armed Forces and the Department of Defense were withheld

At the same time, the US retained the ability to increase sanctions against individuals and organizations who undermine the political reform process or are involved in human rights abuses.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said last week: “We have certainly seen what happened in Burma with great concern, but I do not see any US military role right now.