EU Sanctions 10 Myanmar Junta Officials

Protesters holding signs supporting the newly formed opposition National Unity Government as they protest against the military coup in Shwebo in Myanmar's Sagaing region on 18 April, 2021. (AFP Photo)

The European Union (EU) on Monday announced sanctions on 10 Myanmar junta officials and two conglomerates linked to the military over the coup and bloody crackdown on protesters in their country.

The military has ramped up its attempts to crush dissent following mass demonstrations against its ousting of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, with at least 737 civilians killed and the press increasingly under attack.

International pressure has been steadily building on the junta, although it has so far appeared to have ignored all condemnation.

Announcing the sanctions on officials, EU member states said the individuals "are all responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar/Burma, and for repressive decisions and serious human rights violations".

The two firms hit with asset freezes and visa bans, Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited (MEC), are "owned and controlled by the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw), and provide revenue for it", the statement added.

The companies dominate sectors including trading, alcohol, cigarettes and consumer goods.

The officials targeted are mostly members of the ruling State Administration Council seen as responsible for undermining the democracy in the southeast Asian nation, EU diplomats said.

Japanese Journalist Arrested

The announcement came after Japan urged Myanmar authorities on Monday to release from prison a Japanese journalist accused of spreading fake news, one of at least 65 reporters arrested during the junta's crackdown.

Yuki Kitazumi was detained on Sunday, and a Japanese embassy spokesman confirmed that he had been transferred overnight from a police watchhouse to the Insein prison.

Insein is notorious for holding political prisoners.

Japanese diplomats had sought permission to visit him in jail but that request had not yet been granted, an embassy spokesman said on Monday.

"We are informed by the police he was arrested due to the suspicion of releasing fake news," he said. 

Myanmar authorities told the embassy the journalist was not physically harmed during the arrest and was in good health.

State media later confirmed he had been charged.

"We are asking Myanmar for the person's early release," Japanese government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told reporters. "We will do our utmost to protect the Japanese national." 

The press has been caught in the junta's crackdown as the military attempts to tighten control over the flow of information, throttling internet access and revoking the licences of five local media outlets.

At least 34 journalists and photographers remain in custody across Myanmar, according to monitoring group Reporting ASEAN.

'Guerrilla War'

Western powers have increasingly been seeking to target the junta's key money makers.

The United States and Britain have already imposed sanctions on the MEC and MEHL, while Washington has hit Myanmar's state gem company as well. 

The EU also hit junta chief Min Aung Hlaing and 10 other senior officials with sanctions last month.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after the virtual talks with his EU counterparts Monday that the junta was "manoeuvring the country into a dead end".

That, he said, "is why we are increasing the pressure to bring the military to the negotiating table".

But fighting continued on Monday between residents and the military in the central city of Myingyan, where at least four people were shot on Monday afternoon, a resident said. 

It was unclear how many people died.

"There is still some shooting," the resident added, saying that people were trying to defend themselves with homemade guns. "It's like guerrilla war in our town. 

"The army did not allow anyone to be on the street. They shoot anyone they see on the street."

At least six people including a 13-year-old have been arrested in Myingyan, local media reported.

Pot-Banging Sailors

Meanwhile, security forces barged into the rooms of nearly 40 Myanmar sailors in hotel quarantine in Yangon and attacked them Saturday, after some of them participated in the daily protest ritual of banging on pots and pans.

Traditionally a way for Myanmar people to drive away evil spirits, the activity has become an act of resistance since the putsch, with nightly drumming from 8:00 pm local time.

The seafarers were staying at the Hlaine Tet Hotel after returning from South Korea.

Myo Min, who did not use his real name, said his group was beaten up and some of them robbed – one seafarer's US$1,500 salary was stolen.

Three were badly injured, he added.

"As soon as the door was opened, they started beating us," he said.

"None of them were wearing masks... It is totally unacceptable. I feel insecure now. I just want to go back home. No one can protect us." – AFP