US, allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with fresh sanctions, rallies

Protesters rally to mark the second anniversary of Myanmar's military coup outside the Embassy of Myanmar in Tokyo on Wednesday. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON – The United States and its allies imposed further sanctions on Myanmar on Tuesday, marking the two-year anniversary of the coup with curbs on energy officials and members of the junta, among others.

On Wednesday, protesters staged a “silent strike” in major cities and held rallies overseas, as exiled civilian leaders vowed to end what they called the army’s “illegal power grab”.

Washington imposed sanctions on the Union Election Commission, mining enterprises, energy officials and current and former military officials, according to a Treasury Department statement. Details of the US move were first reported by Reuters.

It marks the first time the US has targeted Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (Moge) officials under the current Myanmar sanctions programme, a Treasury spokesman said.

Canada, Australia and Britain also announced sanctions on Tuesday.

Myanmar’s top generals led a coup in February 2021 after five years of tense power-sharing under a quasi-civilian political system that was created by the military, which led to a decade of unprecedented reform.

The country has been in chaos since, with a resistance movement fighting the military on multiple fronts after a bloody crackdown on opponents that saw Western sanctions reimposed.

In the main commercial cities of Yangon and Mandalay, images on social media showed deserted streets in what coup opponents said was a silent protest against the junta. Democracy activists had urged people not to go out into the streets between 10am and 3pm. 

In Thailand and Japan, hundreds of anti-coup protesters held rallies outside Myanmar’s embassies in Bangkok and Tokyo. 

“This year is decisive for us to completely uproot the military regime,” said Acchariya, a Buddhist monk attending the Bangkok rally. 

Others in the crowd chanted: “We are the people, we have the future” and “The revolution must prevail”. Activists also staged a protest in the Philippine capital, Manila.

Tuesday’s US move targets the managing director and deputy managing director of the state-owned Moge, which is the junta’s single largest revenue-generating state-owned enterprise, according to the Treasury statement.

Human rights advocates have called for sanctions on Moge, but Washington has so far held back.

Among those designated for sanctions by Washington was the Union Minister of Energy, Mr Myo Myint Oo, who Treasury said represents Myanmar’s government in international and domestic energy sector engagements and manages the state-owned entities involved in the production and export of oil and gas.

Mining Enterprise No. 1 and Mining Enterprise No. 2, both state-owned enterprises, and the Union Election Commission were also hit with sanctions by the US.

The military has pledged to hold an election in August. Last Friday, the junta announced tough requirements for parties to contest the election, including a huge increase in their membership, a move that could sideline the military’s opponents and cement its grip on power.

The rules favour the Union Solidarity and Development Party, a military proxy stacked with former generals that was trounced by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the 2015 and 2020 elections.

The NLD was decimated by the coup, with thousands of its members arrested or jailed, including Ms Suu Kyi, and many more in hiding.

The NLD last November described the upcoming 2023 election as “phoney” and said it would not acknowledge it. The election has also been dismissed as a sham by Western governments.

Washington also targeted former and current Myanmar military officials, the Treasury said, accusing the country’s air force of continuing to launch air strikes – using Russian-made aircraft against pro-democracy forces – that have killed civilians.

Canada targeted six individuals and prohibited the export, sale, supply or shipment of aviation fuel in its action on Tuesday, while Australia targeted members of the junta and a military-run company.

Britain targeted two companies and two individuals for helping to supply Myanmar’s air force with aviation fuel used to carry out bombing campaigns against its own citizens. “The junta must be held to account for their brutal crackdown on opposition voices, terrorising air raids and brazen human rights violations,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement. REUTERS

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