New sanctions hit Myanmar junta
Myanmar’s junta was granted a six-month extension to a state of emergency, state media reported on Wednesday, likely delaying elections the military had pledged to hold by August, AFP reports.
The country has been in turmoil since the army’s power grab in 2021, and a subsequent crackdown on dissent has sparked fighting across swathes of the nation while tanking the economy.
The United States, Canada and Britain announced a new round of sanctions on the second anniversary, targeting members of the junta and junta-backed entities.
The US Treasury placed sanctions on Myanmar energy minister Myo Myint Oo and the top two officials of the state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise.
It also placed sanctions on Myanmar Air Force chief Htun Aung, Hla Swe, a former military official that the Treasury said provides arms to pro-regime militias, and Htoo Htwe Tay Za, daughter of Tay Za, a businessman whose large Htoo Group works closely with the Myanmar military.
In addition, the Treasury sanctions the military-controlled Union Election Commission and two state-owned mining companies.
The sanctions, announced in parallel with similar actions by Canada and Britain, came after Myanmar’s junta cast doubt on its announced plan to hold new elections, saying the country had ‘not returned to normalcy.’
Myanmar’s former colonial ruler Britain targeted, among others, companies supplying aviation fuel to the military and enabling its ‘barbaric air raiding campaign in an attempt to maintain power’.
Australia also announced its first sanctions, aimed at 16 members of the junta ‘responsible for egregious human rights abuses’ and two sprawling, military-controlled conglomerates.
More than 2,900 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on dissent since it seized power and more than 18,000 have been arrested, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta recently wrapped up a series of closed-court trials of Suu Kyi, jailing its long-time enemy for a total of 33 years in a process rights groups have slammed as a sham.
‘The main wish for 2023 is we want freedom and to go back home,’ Thet Naung, an activist in northern Sagaing region, where the military and anti-coup fighters have regularly clashed, said.
‘We have gone through many difficulties. We wanted to be happy and live freely but we lost everything. We have spent most of our time in jungles and stayed away from cities.’
On the second anniversary of the putsch, state media reported that the National Defence and Security Council had agreed to junta chief Min Aung Hlaing’s request to prolong the state of emergency declared when the generals toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.
The ‘state of emergency will be extended for another six months starting from February 1’, acting president Myint Swe was quoted as saying.
‘Sovereign power of the state has been transferred to commander in chief again.’
The announcement came as streets emptied and shops closed across Myanmar in protest on the anniversary and Western powers launched a fresh broadside of sanctions against the generals.
Streets in the commercial hub Yangon were largely deserted from late morning, AFP correspondents said, after activists called for people across the country to close businesses and stay indoors.
Roads leading to the famous Shwedagon pagoda — a Buddhist shrine that dominates Yangon’s skyline and is usually thronged by worshippers — were largely deserted.
Most buses on roads elsewhere in the city were empty and there was a heavy security presence.
It was similarly quiet in the second city of Mandalay, a resident said.
‘There are a few people walking here and there in neighbourhoods but almost no activity on the main roads,’ the resident said.
Local media images also showed empty streets in the eastern city of Mawlamyine.
Around 200 supporters of the military marched through Yangon’s historic downtown in the early afternoon, escorted part of the way by soldiers, correspondents said.
The US embassy in the city warned of ‘increased anti-regime activity and violence’ in the days around the anniversary.
Around 400 protesters gathered outside Myanmar’s embassy in Bangkok, some chanting slogans against the military and holding portraits of Suu Kyi.
The military justified its February 1, 2021, power grab with unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in elections that democracy figurehead Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.
The state of emergency was due to expire at the end of January and the military had been widely expected to announce on Wednesday that it would prepare for the polls.
But on Tuesday the junta-stacked National Defence and Security Council met to discuss the state of the nation and concluded it ‘has not returned to normalcy yet’.
Junta opponents, including anti-coup ‘People’s Defence Forces’ and a shadow government dominated by lawmakers from Suu Kyi’s party, had tried to seize ‘state power by means of unrest and violence’, the military’s information team said in a statement.