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U.S. trying to contact Aung San Suu Kyi, detainees after civilian officials die in Myanmar military custody

Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi looks on before the UN’s International Court of Justice on December 11, 2019 in the Peace Palace of The Hague, on the second day of her hearing on the Rohingya genocide case.

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The U.S. is still working to contact Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian detainees in Myanmar, the State Department said Friday, after two officials with her National League for Democracy party died in military custody over the past week.

Suu Kyi was Myanmar’s state counsellor, the civilian head of government, before she was ousted from power and detained by the military in a Feb. 1 coup. Her NLD party had won a sweeping victory in last year’s parliamentary elections, prompting the military to allege fraud and oust her from power.

“We do have an outstanding request for contact with the state counsellor who of course is currently unjustly detained by the military,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters during a press briefing on Friday.

“We have continued to consistently inquire about her health and safety, as well as the health and safety of all detained leaders and civil society actors and we’re working through appropriate channels to make contact with those detained,” Price said.

The U.S. has tried to make contact with Suu Kyi since the February coup but has been rebuffed the military, which has used increasing violence against protestors in recent weeks.

There is growing concern about the well being of Suu Kyi and other detainees after two members of her party died over the past week after security forces detained them. Suu Kyi was last seen during a March 1 court hearing. It’s unclear where she is being held. There have been reports that was detained in her home before being moved to an undisclosed location.

Since the coup, more than 70 Burmese civilians have been killed and more than 2,000 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced by the military regime, according to data compiled by Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Last week, the U.S. Commerce Department imposed export controls against Myanmar’s Ministries of Defense and Home Affairs as well as two corporations connected to the military. Washington has threatened further sanctions against the military regime if it does not end the crackdown.

The U.S. has also called on China to use its influence over Myanmar to restore the democratically elected government to power. Beijing blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution in February condemning the coup. However, China backed a security council statement this week that condemned the violence against protestors and expressed support for Myanmar’s democratic transition.

Wednesday’s presidential statement is a step below a resolution but still becomes part of the U.N. permanent record. The U.N. Security Council can impose sanctions but such a measure would likely fail over Chinese and Russian opposition.

U.S. and Chinese officials have a meeting in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18 to discuss a wide range of topics. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress this week that future meetings with Chinese officials would come only if tangible progress is made on issues of concern to Washington.

“There’s no intent at this point for a series of follow-on engagements. Those engagements, if they are to follow, really have to be based on the proposition that we’re seeing tangible progress and tangible outcomes on the issues of concern to us with China,” Blinken said.

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