US imposes new Myanmar sanctions on two state-owned businesses


In this file photo taken on Sept 14, 2016, a cargo truck transports logs in Yangon. The US Treasury placed Myanmar state-owned timber and pearl businesses on its sanctions blacklist on April 21, 2021. - AFP

WASHINGTON (Reuters): The United States imposed sanctions on two more state-owned enterprises in Myanmar on Wednesday (April 21) in the latest in a series of punitive actions following the country's military coup, and said it would take further action.

The US Treasury Department in a statement said it imposed sanctions on Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE) and Myanmar Pearl Enterprise (MPE), adding that the pearl and timber industries are economic resources for the Myanmar military.

The Southeast Asian country has been in crisis since the February coup when the military seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government, with almost daily protests and a crackdown by the junta in which hundreds of people have been killed.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington would continue to target funding channels to the junta.

"We will continue to support the people of Burma in their efforts to reject this coup, and we call on the military regime to cease violence, release all those unjustly detained, and restore Burma’s path to democracy," Blinken said in a separate statement.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an activist group, says 738 people have been killed by Myanmar's security forces since the coup and 3,300 people are in detention. Another 20 people have been sentenced to death and are in hiding.

Wednesday's action freezes any U.S. assets of the businesses and generally bars Americans from dealing with the companies that the Treasury said are responsible for timber and pearl exports from Myanmar.

The Environmental Investigation Agency, an international nonprofit that documents timber industry abuses in Myanmar and elsewhere, said this month that the military junta profits from the export of teak through MTE.

That teak is sometimes exported to the United States and Europe and used for luxury furniture and for the decks of high-end yachts, the group says.

"Sanctions placed on MTE in Myanmar is a significant blow to the military regime, which directly profits from the country’s valuable and diminishing forests," said Faith Doherty, the group's forests campaign leader.

She added that the move, which means no timber or timber products from Myanmar can be exported to the United States, would also undermine corrupt officials.

Advocacy groups Human Rights Now and Justice for Myanmar said Japanese jewelry firm Tasaki should end all business with MPE, accusing the pearl company of supporting the junta by maintaining business with the state-owned enterprise.

Tasaki did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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