Despite international pressure, Myanmar’s ruling junta continues to crush disagreement

The United States and Britain increased international pressure on Myanmar’s ruling junta on Thursday by blacklisting military-led companies, but troops reportedly shot dead nine protesters in the generals’ campaign to break differences.

Thousands of people protested last month’s coup in the commercial capital Yangon and other cities on Thursday, according to witnesses and social media posts.

“Are we united? Yes, we are,” protesters in Monywa shouted. “The revolution must prevail.”

Myanmar has been outraged by almost daily protests since the army overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on February 1 and installed the junta. Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) are being held in custody.

At least 320 people have been killed in the ensuing closure since Thursday night, according to figures compiled by the activist group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

In Washington, the US Treasury Department announced new sanctions against Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (ed. Correct) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited.

Both are part of a large military-controlled network that spans a variety of sectors from mining to tourism and has enriched the generals. Representatives of the two units had no immediate comment.

Washington’s move freezes all assets it holds in the United States. It also prohibits U.S. companies or citizens from trading or conducting financial transactions with those listed.

“These measures will specifically target those who led the coup, the military’s economic interests and the flows of funding that support the brutal repression of the Burmese military,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement. “They are not targeting the people of Burma.”

In a move coordinated with the United States, the former colonial power Britain said it would target Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd, citing human rights violations against civilians and its association with senior military personnel.

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said the sanctions would help empty the sources of funding for the military’s repression campaigns.

Earlier US operations had affected individuals linked to the coup, while junata’s leader and army commander General Min Aung Hlaing was already blacklisted due to previous human rights issues.

The European Union announced sanctions against 11 individuals on Monday and is expected to target the conglomerates soon.

But even though many foreign governments have condemned the military’s actions, Thomas Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, said the diplomatic response was slow and “in line with the scale of the crisis”.

Conditions in Myanmar deteriorated and are likely to get much worse without an “immediate, robust, international response in support of the besieged,” he said, demanding an emergency summit on the crisis.

On the streets

Protests against the military resumed on Thursday after a silent strike on Wednesday left the bustling areas of commercial hubs such as Yangon and Monywa virtually deserted.

The AAPP registered nine deaths of security forces protesters on Thursday – in Yangon’s Thingangyun township, Khin-U city in Sagaing region, Mohnyin city in Kachin state and Taunggyi City in Shan State.

Other media reported that at least seven protesters were injured when security forces opened fire at various locations. Reuters could not independently verify the reports.

The military tried to stifle protests before the day of the armed forces on Saturday, the AAPP said. A military spokesman did not respond to calls for comment.

Light guards took place all over the country again overnight, photographs on social media showed.

Residents said that after dark on Thursday, soldiers stormed Yangon’s Mingalar Taungnyunt district and arrested people who were still on the streets following a curfew. Residents heard bangs that could be either stun grenades or shots, although there was no protest in the area, they said.

A Yangon resident said soldiers had shot at his building every night this week and inspected houses they considered suspicious.

“Even if they do not find anything, they take everything they want,” he told Reuters.

Singapore, Indonesia ‘distressed’

Although the junta has shown little sign of reversing its course, on Wednesday it released hundreds of people who had been gathered and imprisoned in the violence. Nearly 3,000 people have been arrested since the coup, AAPP said.

The junta has tried to justify the takeover by saying that the November 8 election that won Suu Kyi’s NLD was fraudulent – an accusation rejected by the election commission. Military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date and have declared a state of emergency.

Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her campaign to bring democratic civilian rule to Myanmar, has been in custody since the coup and faces charges that her lawyer says have been boiled down to discredit her.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan met with his Indonesian counterpart in Jakarta on Thursday, saying both countries were “very concerned” about the situation in Myanmar. He had visited Malaysia and Brunei earlier in the week.

Malaysia and Indonesia are seeking an urgent meeting of Southeast Asia’s ASEAN regional group, of which Myanmar is a member, to discuss the crisis.