US, UK impose sanctions on firms controlled by Myanmar's military

Meanwhile, a UN expert on human rights says the world's response to crisis has been too sluggish

Published Fri, Mar 26, 2021 · 05:50 AM

Washington

THE United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on conglomerates controlled by Myanmar's military following the generals' Feb 1 coup and deadly crackdown.

The US sanctions target Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Ltd (MEC), according to a notice posted on the US Treasury Department's website.

The move by Washington freezes any assets held by the entities in the United States and is the latest in a series of sanctions following the military takeover that have targeted Myanmar's central bank as well as top generals.

Thursday's action is the first against the business interests of Myanmar's military, which controls vast swathes of Myanmar's economy with interests ranging from beer and cigarettes to telecommunications, tyres, mining and real estate.

Representatives for the two entities had no immediate comment on Wednesday.

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In a move coordinated with the US, Britain also targeted MEHL, citing serious human rights violations against the Rohingya and its association with senior military figures.

"Today's sanctions target the military's financial interests to help drain the sources of finance for their campaigns of repression against civilians," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

The sanctions were followed by a warning from a UN expert on human rights who said the world's response to the Myanmar crisis has been too sluggish and far from tough enough to prevent further deterioration.

Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, called for an emergency summit to sharpen the response and said it should include the South-east Asian country's neighbours and global powers.

Myanmar's military has unleashed a deadly wave of violence as it struggles to quell nationwide protests against the ousting of the civilian government and arrest of leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi.

"Conditions in Myanmar are deteriorating but they will likely get much worse without an immediate, robust, international response in support of those under siege," Mr Andrews said in a statement.

"The limited sanctions imposed by member states do not cut the junta's access to revenue that help sustain its illegal activities, and the slow pace of diplomacy is out of step with the scale of the crisis.

"The incremental approach to sanctions has left the most lucrative business assets of the junta unscathed. It needs to be replaced by robust action that includes a diplomatic offensive designed to meet the moment."

Mr Andrews, who does not speak for the UN but is mandated to report his findings to the global body, called for the emergency summit to involve among others the Committee for Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) - a group of ousted parliamentarians working underground against the junta.

Without a focused diplomatic solution, he said he feared the situation would further deteriorate with more murders, enforced disappearances and torture.

A combination of domestic peaceful resistance, sustained pressure and international diplomatic momentum would save lives and have a far greater chance of success than taking up arms, the American said.

"I fear that the international community has only a short time remaining to act," Mr Andrews added.

His warning came as security forces opened fire on Thursday on anti-coup protesters in the eastern Karen state in the latest flare-up, as demonstrators took to the streets in nationwide dawn rallies.

Protesters have continued calling for the military to step down, defying night-time curfews to stage candlelit vigils for the dead, and taking to the streets early in dawn marches to avoid security forces.

At least four people were killed, news reports said, a day after a nationwide silent strike in protest against last month's military coup.

Thousands of people held street protests in the commercial capital Yangon, the central city of Monywa and several other towns, according to witnesses and social media posts.

"Are we united? Yes, we are," protesters shouted in Monywa.

"The revolution must prevail." Nant Khi Phyu Aye, one of the those on the street, said many of the protesters were youngsters.

"They want to protest every day without skipping one day," she added.

At least 286 people have been killed since the coup in the crackdown on protests, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group. REUTERS, AFP

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