US puts sanctions on Myanmar armymen over Rohingya abuses - GulfToday

US puts sanctions on Myanmar armymen over Rohingya abuses


People supporting the amendment of Myanmar’s constitution gather at a rally in Yangon on Wednesday. Reuters

The United States on Tuesday announced sanctions on the Myanmar military’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and other military leaders it said were responsible for extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims, barring them from entry to the United States.

The steps, which also covered Min Aung Hlaing’s deputy, Soe Win, and two other senior commanders and their families, are the strongest the United States has taken in response to massacres of minority Rohingyas in Myanmar, also known as Burma. It named the two others as Brigadier Generals Than Oo and Aung Aung.

“We remain concerned that the Burmese government has taken no actions to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and there are continued reports of the Burmese military committing human rights violations and abuses throughout the country,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

Pompeo said a recent disclosure that Min Aung Hlaing ordered the release of soldiers convicted of extrajudicial killings at the village of Inn Din during the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in 2017 was “one egregious example of the continued and severe lack of accountability for the military and its senior leadership.”

“The Commander-in-Chief released these criminals after only months in prison, while the journalists who told the world about the killings in Inn Din were jailed for more than 500 days,” Pompeo said.

The Inn Din massacre was uncovered by two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who spent more than 16 months behind bars on charges of obtaining state secrets. The two were released in an amnesty on May 6.

The US announcement came on the first day of an international ministerial conference on religious freedom hosted by Pompeo at the State Department that was attended by Rohingya representatives.

“With this announcement, the United States is the first government to publicly take action with respect to the most senior leadership of the Burmese military,” said Pompeo, who has been a strong advocate of religious freedom.

Meanwhile, a Myanmar military spokesman said on Wednesday that US travel ban on army chief over his role in orchestrating a bloody crackdown against Rohingya Muslims harms the dignity of the military, adding critics failed to properly understand the crisis.

Military spokesman and Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said the campaign was in self-defence, and they had carried out their own investigations.

“Our actions should be respected,” he said, adding that the sanctions “harmed the dignity of the military”.

He said the US misunderstood the history of the fighting in Rakhine state where the Rohingya crackdown occurred.

“The military carried out our duty to protect the lives of ethnic minorities and to protect the region.”

Separately, protesters in Myanmar called for the military to loosen its grip on politics Wednesday, as tensions mount over the country’s army-drafted constitution ahead of national elections next year.

The 2008 charter, enacted by the ruling junta after decades of repressive army rule, bars embattled civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency and forces her to share power with the generals.

It also guarantees a quarter of parliamentary seats to the armed forces, along with powerful defence and security portfolios.

Parliament is set to discuss proposed amendments to the document but military MPs hold a veto on any changes, prompting more than 1,000 protesters to gather in downtown Yangon and shout slogans demanding constitutional reform.

“I think the military should stand with and think for the public,” said Yangon resident Thi Thi Han.

But opinion over the issue is split, and a rival protest later on Wednesday demanded Myanmar leaders keep the charter as it is.

“Democracy here is so young, it requires the military to be in parliament until democracy is fully fledged,” said 39-year-old Zar Chi Lin.

The constitution has long been a flashpoint in Myanmar politics.

Suu Kyi’s party, which won a landslide victory in 2015 elections, wants to downsize the role of the armed forces. But the military insists it plays a stabilising role in a country riven by conflict in border areas.


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