UK hits Myanmar border guard force colonel, two others, with sanctions

The United Kingdom on Friday slapped sanctions on a leader of Myanmar junta-affiliated Border Guard Force (BGF) Colonel Saw Chit Thu and two others involved in the controversial Shwe Kokko new city gambling project in Karen State, over allegations of human trafficking, forced labor and human rights violations, The Irrawaddy reports.

The other two people sanctioned over the project are Chinese investor She Zhijiang and Colonel Saw Min Min Oo, managing director of the Chit Lin Myaing Co run by Saw Chit Thu’s BGF.

The Shwe Kokko project is a collaboration between the Chit Lin Myaing Co and Hong Kong-registered Yatai International Holding Group.

The project has become notorious in Southeast Asia for links to Chinese criminal gangs, human trafficking, labor exploitation, online scams, gambling and other crimes. It is also the main source of income for Saw Chit Thu and his border guard personnel.

Chinese investor She Zhijiang was arrested in Bangkok in August last year. He is named on an international arrest warrant for allegedly running an online casino and, besides Shwe Kokko, has controversial mega projects and gambling ventures in Cambodia. The BGF said the project is running normally despite She Zhijiang’s arrest.

The three were among the first set of sanctions announced by the UK on Friday. It sanctioned nine individuals and five entities with links to online “scam farms” in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. It is widely reported that trafficked people have been forced to work in the scam farms which engage in massive fraud.

The UK said the three people sanctioned over the Shwe Kokko project have been responsible for supporting or benefitting from the trafficking of individuals who were forced to work as scammers and were subject to torture, physical abuse and further cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

The UN estimates at least 120,000 people in Myanmar are being forced to work for such schemes, the UK announcement said. The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has helped a small number of British nationals return to the UK who had become victims of the schemes, it added.

“We will not tolerate criminals and repressive regimes trampling on the fundamental rights and freedoms of ordinary people around the world,” UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in the announcement.

Burma Campaign UK welcomed the sanctions. Its director, Mark Farmaner, said: “[Saw] Chit Thu belongs in jail and these sanctions should act as a stepping stone towards holding him to account for decades of human rights violations by soldiers under his command.”

The second set of the sanctions announced by the UK on the same day targeted individuals linked to the governments, judiciaries and prosecuting authorities in Belarus, Haiti, Iran, and Syria for their involvement in repressing citizens for exercising fundamental freedoms.

The US and Canada also announced a package of sanctions targeting individuals linked to human rights abuses around the world to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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