U.S. Treasury Blacklists Largest Firms Run by Myanmar Military

The U.S. imposed a fresh round of sanctions targeting the Myanmar military by blacklisting the two largest business entities it controls, according to the Treasury Department.

The sanctions announced Thursday against Myanmar Economic Corp. and Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd., which freeze any assets the two companies hold in the U.S., mark the most severe action taken by any country against the military since it overthrew the civilian-elected government in a coup on Feb. 1.

“These sanctions specifically target the economic resources of Burma’s military regime, which is responsible for the overthrow of Burma’s democratically elected government and the ongoing repression of the Burmese people,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.

The two companies dominate portions of the Myanmar economy, the Treasury statement said, citing natural resources, alcohol, cigarettes and consumer goods.

The sanctions come amid persisting violence in Myanmar against protesters by security forces that as of March 24 had killed at least 286 people, according to the rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

“The United States stands with the people of Burma and urges a return to its democratically elected government,” Andrea Gacki, the director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

Earlier this week, the administration of President Joe Biden imposed targeted sanctions against individuals and entities in Myanmar including two army divisions amid growing action from its partners in the West. The U.S. previously applied restrictions to the adult children of coup leader Min Aung Hlaing along with their business holdings and has moved to ensure the country’s military leadership can’t access about $1 billion in government funds held in the U.S.

Run by senior military officials and with vast holdings across the economy, MEHL and MEC have been subject to a nationwide boycott from protesters against the military takeover. A United Nations fact-finding mission in 2019 called for sanctions against the secretive enterprises for conducting illicit behavior that helped fund atrocities that forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee across Myanmar’s border into Bangladesh following military attacks on Muslim villages in Rakhine state in 2017.

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