US Senators urge Biden to impose more sanctions on Myanmar junta

People are seen during a protest against the military coup in Yangon on April 27, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A bipartisan group of US senators on Tuesday (April 27) urged the Biden administration to slap more sanctions on the military junta in Myanmar, including choking revenues to a state energy company, in response to its coup and violent crackdown on protesters.

Senators Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican, and four others urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a letter to" explore new avenues to support the people of Burma in their ongoing struggle for democracy in the face of escalating crimes against humanity."

They want the Biden administration to stop royalties flowing from businesses including US energy major Chevron Corp to Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, or MOGE, an agency within the Energy Ministry. MOGE provides financial support to military leaders, including General Min Aung Hlaing, already under US sanctions.

MOGE is a partner in Yadana, a natural gas field in which Chevron has a 28.3 per cent stake.

Human rights groups have urged energy companies including Chevron and Total to cut ties to Myanmar after the military ousted the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1, detaining her and cracking down on protesters. More than 750 people have since been killed.

Gas revenues from joint ventures involving companies like Total and Chevron are the most significant single source of foreign exchange revenue for the Myanmar government, generating cash payments of about US$1.1 billion (S$1.5 billion) annually, the senators said.

They proposed the ventures pay revenue into a trust to be held until Myanmar has a democratically elected government or to be used for humanitarian purposes, according to the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

A Chevron representative said any diversion of revenues or taxes owed to MOGE into an escrow account "could be considered a breach of contract and potentially put employees of the joint venture partners at undue risk of criminal prosecution." Total did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The State and Treasury departments did not immediately respond.

Chevron paid around US$50 million to Myanmar between 2014 and 2018, according to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which works to increase transparency in international business.

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