The US and UK have sanctioned entities linked to Myanmar’s military, amid two months of protests and chaos in the country following a military coup that ousted the civilian government.
The sanctions package was announced by the US Treasury Department on Thursday. The restrictions targeted two Burmese holding companies – Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited (MEC).
The companies, which are owned by Myanmar’s military, “dominate certain sectors of the economy, including trading, natural resources, alcohol, cigarettes, and consumer goods,” the Treasury said, insisting that the sanctions are “not directed at the people of Burma” but rather are designed to help them.
“The United States stands with the people of Burma and urges a return to its democratically elected government,” Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea M. Gacki said in a statement.
By designating MEC and MEHL, Treasury is targeting the Burmese military’s control of significant segments of the Burmese economy, which is a vital financial lifeline for the military junta.
A similar move was announced by London shortly after. Unlike the US, the UK also named the persecution of Rohingya people as one of the reasons for the sanctions, alleging that MEHL “contributed funds to support the country’s armed forces” to wage the campaign against them, describing it as an “ethnic cleansing.”
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the sanctions “target the military’s financial interests to help drain the sources of finance for their campaigns of repression against civilians.”
Myanmar has endured nearly two months of civil unrest, after the country’s military ousted its civilian government on February 1. The coup ended the short period of civilian rule, which lasted for nine years. Military governments controlled Myanmar between the early 1960s and 2011.
The coup prompted mass protests across the country, which have been forcefully opposed by the military and police. The unrest has already resulted in dozens dead and injured, while hundreds of protesters have been detained.
The military announced a one-year state of emergency, promising to hold elections and surrender power back to civilians at an unspecified point in the future.
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