US and Britain blacklist Myanmar military-controlled companies

The military controls vast swathes of Myanmar's economy. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US and Britain imposed sanctions on conglomerates controlled by Myanmar's military on Thursday (March 25), following the generals' Feb 1 coup and deadly crackdown, with Washington calling it a response to "abhorrent violence and abuses".

The US Treasury department said its sanctions targeted Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Ltd (MEC).

Britain imposed similar sanctions on MEHL, citing the Myanmar military's serious human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims.

Washington's move 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.

The designation also prohibits American companies or citizens from trading or conducting financial transactions with those listed.

Since almost all dollar payments clear through US financial institutions, the move effectively kicks blacklisted companies out of the American banking system.

Thursday's actions were the most significant by far 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, tires, mining and real estate.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Myanmar military "have taken increasingly disturbing actions aimed at their own citizens since Feb 1".

"These actions will specifically target those who led the coup, the economic interests of the military, and the funding streams supporting the Burmese military's brutal repression," he said. "They are not directed at the people of Burma."

"By designating these entities, the United States and the UK have shown that we will follow through on our pledges to promote accountability for the coup and the abhorrent violence and other abuses we have seen in recent weeks," Mr Blinken said.

The ruling military junta changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, a year after thousands were killed in the suppression of a popular uprising.

Ms Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said that by imposing the sanctions, the US was "targeting the Burmese military's control of significant segments of the Burmese economy, which is a vital financial lifeline for the military junta".

The US also issued several licences that provide exemptions for official US government transactions and those of international and non-governmental organisations despite US sanctions related to the country.

Another licence also authorised transactions necessary to wind down business involving MEC and MEHL or any entity they own, until June 22.

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