US sanctions Myanmar defense ministry, two state-owned banks

(Update 1: adds reactions from par 7)

Bangkok, June 22 (EFE).- The United States’ Treasury has imposed sanctions against Myanmar’s defense ministry and two banks in the Southeast Asian country it says are used to carry out transactions between the military junta and foreign markets, including buying arms.

The state-owned banks, Myanma Foreign Trade Bank (MFTB) and Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank (MICB), primarily function as foreign currency exchanges allowing income-generating state-owned enterprises access to international markets using offshore accounts, and also enable the defense ministry and other sanctioned military entities to “purchase arms and other materials from foreign sources,” according to the Treasury in a statement issued Wednesday in Washington.

“Burma’s military regime has leveraged state-run access to international markets to import weapons and materiel, including from sanctioned Russian entities, to continue its violence and oppression,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson.

The Treasury also denounced Myanmar’s defense ministry for being “responsible for the command and control of the armed forces,” which carried out a coup on Feb. 1, 2021, overthrowing the democratic government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been imprisoned since.

“Since the coup, the Ministry of Defense has continued to import goods and materiel worth at least $1 billion, including from sanctioned entities in Russia,” the Treasury said.

According to experts, bank sanctions may undermine the junta’s ability to finance its war against the resistance and ethnic minority guerrillas that are gaining ground on the armed forces, although they do not have as much scope as sanctioning the entity that controls energy projects, the biggest source of profit for the junta.

The opposition shadow administration, the National Unity Government (NUG), which is partly made up of elected lawmakers deposed by the 20201 coup, celebrated Washington’s new measures.

“We welcome today’s US sanctions coming on Myanmar’s junta including two financial institutions that facilitate transactions between junta & foreign markets. Int’l actors must stop junta using FX and block their revenue flows such as oil and gas sector,” NUG Acting President Duwa Lashi La wrote on Twitter.

The news was also welcomed by organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), whose Asia Director Elaine Pearson wrote on Twitter that the sanctions “will help block USD payments to the Myanmar junta.”

HRW’s Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson, said that the measures are “very welcome”, but questioned why “this very obvious step” had taken so long.

Justice for Myanmar also appreciated the sanctions, but warned that for them to be effective, “far more needs to be done to systematically target the junta’s financial and arms procurement networks by the US and its allies.”

“Justice For Myanmar calls for urgent sanctions against Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, which continues to bankroll the junta’s ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as the junta’s network of cronies and arms brokers,” it added.

Since the military uprising, more than 3,600 civilians have been killed and 19,000 political prisoners are still detained out of 24,300 arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, while more than 1.5 million people have been displaced. EFE


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