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Unions on Myanmar Sanctions: ‘Choke Off Access’ for Junta’s ‘Inner Circle’

Two leading union federations released the names of 23 potential “proxies” Friday that they say should face financial sanctions because of close ties with the Myanmar military, which seized power from civilian leaders in a Feb. 1 coup that has mired the Southeast Asian nation in spiraling violence and bloodshed.

“These people are being used by the generals to evade financial sanctions placed on them by the U.S. and other countries,” Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said in a statement. “They, too, should be subjected to watertight sanctions to plug the leaks. Governments have a responsibility to act, and banks and other financial groups, including credit-card companies, should close off credit and access to money for the murderous thugs that control the junta.”

They include Burmese minister Thet Thet Khine, owner of Shwe Nan Daw Gold & Jewellery; Chit Khaing, owner of Eden Group; Tay Za, owner of Htoo Group; and Sai Sam Htun, owner of Loi Hein Company.

Burrow also urged payment clearance services such as SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) to block payments to and from coup leaders and their associates. “Corporate complicity in the murder of innocent people and the pillaging of a nation by the military is unacceptable,” she added.

The White House has slapped Myanmar’s military leaders, their families and businesses with a raft of sanctions, preventing them from accessing $1 billion of Myanmar government funds held in the United States and withholding $42.4 million in aid that would have supported the local government’s efforts to reform economic policy and strengthen civil society and the private sector. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added the Burmese Ministries of Defence and Home Affairs, the Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanmar Economic Holding Limited to the Entity List, which prohibits them from receiving some or all items subject to the Export Administration Regulations without a license.

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The unions are also asking banks to sever relationships with financial institutions controlled in whole or in part by the junta, including Myawaddy Bank; Innwa Bank; Myanmar Citizens Bank; and Construction, Infrastructure and Housing Development Bank.

“As the number of young and peaceful protestors killed by Myanmar’s military junta grows, it becomes even more imperative that all companies with ties to Myanmar— including banks—accept their responsibility to help bring this unacceptable violence to an end,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union General. “Financial sanctions imposed against the military’s top generals are one important step, but not enough. We must choke off the access to money and credit for those in their inner circle, the leaders of the coup and those who stand to benefit from its violence.”

On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation condemning the Burmese military’s takeover and crackdown and demanding the release of all the people it has detained while calling for journalists to be allowed to work freely. The measure passed by 398 to 14, with one voting “present.” All “no” and “present” votes came from Republicans.

The House passed another Myanmar-related bill, introduced by Reps. David Price (D-N.C.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), without a roll call Thursday. If approved by the Senate and enacted into law, the measure would require President Biden’s administration to keep Congress abreast on events in Myanmar and its response to them.

“The rapidly deteriorating situation in Burma caused by the Burmese military calls for a forceful response by Congress and the U.S. government,” Price, who is also chairman of the House Democracy Partnership, said of the Protect Democracy in Burma Act in a statement. “Not only has the military junta brazenly rejected the will of the Burmese people, who democratically elected a civilian-led government, but the military’s escalating and increasingly violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, members of civil society, journalists and even emergency medical personnel is cause for immediate action.”

Self-governance and respect for the rule of law are “at the cornerstone of any democracy,” said Buchanan, co-chairman of the House Democracy Partnership, noting that the National League of Democracy, former de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, won in a landslide “free and fair” election. “The military coup in Burma is a clear attack on these core principles and is a devastating setback for the Southeastern Asian nation. I am pleased to see the House taking action and asserting its steadfast support of the Burmese people and their democratically elected leaders.”