WASHINGTON — The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on two children of Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing and six companies they control in response to the military’s Feb. 1 coup and the killing of protesters since the takeover.
The US Treasury Department said in a statement it blacklisted Aung Pyae Sone and Khin Thiri Thet Mon, the adult children of Myanmar’s commander in chief who led the coup and installed himself as head of the ruling State Administration Council.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned more punitive actions could follow, and condemned the detention of over 1,700 people and attacks by Myanmar’s security forces against unarmed protesters that he said have killed at least 53 people.
“We will not hesitate to take further action against those who instigate violence and suppress the will of the people,” Blinken said in a statement.
The military has brushed off condemnation of its actions, as it has in past periods of army rule when outbreaks of protest were forcibly repressed.
Wednesday’s move – the latest in a series of punitive actions taken by Washington against Myanmar’s military over the coup – essentially freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
Campaign group Justice for Myanmar said in January that Min Aung Hlaing, who has been commander in chief since 2011, has “abused his power to benefit his family, who have profited from their access to state resources and the military’s total impunity.”
The six Myanmar companies blacklisted by Washington include A&M Mahar, which is controlled by Aung Pyae Sone, the general’s son. Justice for Myanmar said A&M offers foreign pharmaceutical companies access to Myanmar’s market by obtaining approvals from Myanmar’s Food and Drug Administration.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, praised the Treasury’s move for directly hitting at the wealth of Min Aung Hlaing, but called for stronger action.
“These are not the kind of punitive actions that we believe will lead to behavioral change. We are recommending they focus on ongoing revenue streams which are far larger and if cut off would be far more painful to the military as an institution,” Sifton said, referring to oil and gas revenues produced by projects that involve international companies.
The United States has so far held back from imposing sanctions against military conglomerates Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), among those used by the military to control vast swathes of the country’s economy.
In Myanmar, protesters took to the streets in several parts of the country on Thursday, defying an increasingly brutal crackdown by security forces that rights group Amnesty International says are now adopting battle tactics against demonstrators.
Social media posts showed pro-democracy protesters marching in the town of Tamu in Chin State on Thursday chanting: “Will we revolt or will we serve them? We will revolt.”
A Reuters witness said there was also a small rally in the Sanchaung area of Yangon, a district where security forces this week fired guns and used stun grenades as they checked houses to hunt down protesters.
Overnight people defied a curfew to hold several more candle lit vigils in parts of Yangon and also in Myingyan, south west of the second city of Mandalay.
The UN Security Council on Wednesday condemned violence against protesters and urged the army to show restraint, but failed to denounce the military takeover as a coup or threaten further action due to opposition from China and Russia.
Amnesty International accused the army of using lethal force against protesters and said many killings documented amounted to extrajudicial executions.
“These are not the actions of overwhelmed, individual officers making poor decisions,” said Joanne Mariner, Director of Crisis Response at Amnesty International.
“These are unrepentant commanders already implicated in crimes against humanity, deploying their troops and murderous methods in the open.”
A junta spokesman declined to give an immediate comment. The junta has previously said it is acting with utmost restraint in handling what it describes as demonstrations by “riotous protesters” whom it accuses of attacking police and harming national security and stability.