UK sanctions Myanmar conglomerate, says junta sinking to new lows with killings

Armed troops standing guard on a road in Yangon, Myanmar, on March 31, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON (REUTERS) - Britain sanctioned a Myanmar conglomerate on Thursday (April 1) for its close links to the military leadership, which Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said was wantonly killing innocent people, including children.

Britain imposed sanctions on the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) for involvement in serious human rights violations by making funds available to the Myanmar military, as well as its association with senior military figures.

"The Myanmar military has sunk to a new low with the wanton killing of innocent people, including children," Mr Raab said.

"The UK's latest actions target one of the military's key funding streams and impose a further cost on them for their violations of human rights."

Myanmar has been rocked by protests since the army overthrew the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1 citing unsubstantiated claims of fraud in a November election.

At least 538 civilians have been killed in the protests, 141 of them on Saturday, the bloodiest day of the unrest, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has called for international companies to consider cutting ties to enterprises that support Myanmar's military, welcomed Britain's action.

"The coup leaders must cease all violence against the people of Burma and restore democracy," he said.

Britain's Next on Thursday joined a growing list of European clothing retailers suspending new production orders with factories in Myanmar in the wake of the coup.

Myanmar is known globally for its yarn, fabric and textile products, and its garment industry is a key source of jobs.

"We're not placing any more orders at the moment, that is a big step," CEO Simon Wolfson told Reuters. "We don't source a lot of our product from Myanmar but most of the stock that we were sourcing from Myanmar... we have alternatives in place already for that stock in other countries." Mr Wolfson said.

Myanmar provided less than 5 per cent of Next's total stock.

On Wednesday, Associated British Foods said its Primark fashion business had paused orders in Myanmar, following similar moves by Sweden's H&M, the world's second-biggest fashion retailer, and Italy's Benetton Group.

On Monday, Italian clothing retailer OVS said it would keep its "limited presence" in Myanmar but would stop its business with suppliers acting in a discriminatory way towards workers involved in rallies against the country's junta.

Britain's Marks & Spencer, which sources about 3 per cent of its clothing from Myanmar, said it is continuing with its booked orders but is keeping future orders under review.

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