EU sanctions Myanmar generals as UN urges ASEAN action

EU measures are its toughest yet against military that has cracked down violently on protests against its February 1 coup.

The EU has imposed sanctions on 10 military figures as well as its two giant conglomerates [File: Myawaddy TV via AFP]

The European Union has imposed sanctions on 10 of Myanmar’s military leaders, as well as two giant military conglomerates, in its toughest measures yet against the February 1 coup and the bloody crackdown on protesters demanding the return of the elected government.

Announcing the sanctions on Monday, which include asset freezes and visa bans, EU member states said the individuals were “all responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar/Burma, and for repressive decisions and serious human rights violations”.

Myanmar’s State Administration Council (SAC), set up by the military the day after it seized power, was “responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law”, the EU said in its Official Journal.

“The military forces and authorities operating under the control of the SAC have committed serious human rights violations since February 1, 2021, killing civilian and unarmed protesters,” the EU said.

Nine of those singled out are members of the State Administration Council. Information Minister U Chit Naing was also sanctioned.

Myanmar has been rocked by almost daily protests since the coup and the military has stepped up its attempts to crush dissent even as the United Nations and Western countries have condemned their takeover and the escalating violence.

Thousands have been arrested since the coup and at least 738 civilians have been killed, according to the human rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which is monitoring the situation. More than 4,000 people have been arrested and 3,261 remain in detention, according to the group, which the military has accused of spreading ‘fake news’.

The EU also took action against Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited (MEC), because they were “owned and controlled by the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw), and provide revenue for it“, the statement added.

The conglomerates sprawling business interests include shopping malls, breweries, entertainment venues and tobacco and provide significant income to the military beyond the budget. The United States and the United Kingdom have already imposed sanctions on the businesses and the US has also sanctioned the state gem company.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after the virtual talks with his EU counterparts Monday that the military government was “manoeuvring the country into a dead-end”.

That, he said, “is why we are increasing the pressure to bring the military to the negotiating table”.

The sanctions, long demanded by human rights groups, bar EU investors and banks from doing business with the companies.

“MEHL and its subsidiaries generate revenue (for the military), therefore contributing to its capabilities to carry out activities undermining democracy and the rule of law and to serious human rights violations in Myanmar,” the EU said. It made the same charges against MEC and stressed that the sanctions were designed to avoid “undue harm” to the Myanmar people.

ASEAN meeting

The military has justified its power grab after 10 years of tentative steps towards democracy by claiming that the November 2020 election that returned Aung San Suu Kyi and her party to power in a landslide was riddled with fraud. The election commission, whose members were also detained during the coup, has rejected the accusations.

As protests continued in Myanmar on Monday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that a “robust international response grounded on a unified regional effort” was needed, urging “regional actors to leverage their influence to prevent further deterioration and, ultimately, find a peaceful way out of this catastrophe.”

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which Myanmar joined under a previous military government in 1997, is due to hold a special summit on the coup and its aftermath on April 24. Min Aung Hlaing is due to attend.

Also speaking to the Security Council, Guterres’ predecessor Ban Ki-moon also urged the council to move beyond statements of reproach to collective action and for ASEAN, which takes decisions by consensus and does not intervene in issues it considers domestic matters, to respond more robustly.

“ASEAN must make it clear to the Myanmar military that the current situation is so grave that it cannot be regarded only as an internal matter,” he said.

Myanmar’s elected government and supporters have set up a parallel administration – the National Unity Government – and called on ASEAN to invite them to the summit.

A group of regional parliamentarians on Tuesday urged ASEAN to “give (the unity government) a seat at the table” and handle the invitation to Min Aung Hlaing with “extreme caution”.

“ASEAN cannot adequately discuss the situation in Myanmar without hearing from and speaking to the National Unity Government,” said Charles Santiago, chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and a Malaysian Member of Parliament (MP). “If ASEAN’s purpose really is to strengthen democracy, as stated by its Charter, they must give them a seat at the table. After all, they are the embodiment of democracy in Myanmar.”

APHR also said that the regional grouping should invite Christine Schraner Burgener, the secretary-general’s special envoy on Myanmar, to the summit. She has been communicating with the generals but they have refused to allow her to visit Myanmar.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies