EU hits Myanmar junta members and two military companies with sanctions

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on members of Myanmar's junta who took control of the country in a Feb. 1 coup, as well as its new information minister and two conglomerates controlled by the military.

In its firmest response yet to the ousting of an elected government led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the EU said nine members of the junta's State Administration Council, formed the day after the coup, had been targeted with travel bans and asset freezes. So was information minister U Chit Naing.

The decision, first reported by Reuters on March 8 and April 15, puts the leaders of the junta and their top administrators under sanctions and follows similar measures by the United States. Myanmar Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing and Myint Swe, who has been acting president since the coup, were blacklisted by the EU last month.

Myanmar's State Administration Council 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.

The EU also moved to target two companies that generate revenue for the Myanmar Armed Forces, a robust step following on from sanctions on 11 senior military officials, including the commander in chief, last month. The EU has an arms embargo on Myanmar.

Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) were targeted with sanctions on Monday, barring EU investors and banks from doing business with them. Human rights groups had called for them to be sanctioned.

"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.

The conglomerates are spread throughout the economy from mining and manufacturing to food and beverages to hotels, telecoms and banking. They rank among the country's biggest taxpayers and sought partnerships with foreign companies as Myanmar opened up during the democratic liberalization.

Like several Western powers, the EU has condemned the coup and called for the restoration of civilian rule.

The coup has plunged Myanmar into crisis after 10 years of tentative steps toward democracy, with, in addition to the daily protests, strikes by workers in many sectors that have brought the economy to a standstill.

An activist group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, says the security forces have killed 715 protesters since the overthrow of Suu Kyi's government.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Philip Blenkinsop)

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