Sanctions sought against Myanmar’s wealthy military

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Soldiers march in a formation during a parade to mark the 74th Armed Forces Day in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, March 27, 2019. (Xinhua/U Aung)

JAKARTA (AFP) – Tougher sanctions are needed against Myanmar’s wealthy and powerful military as its web of economic interests has generated a fortune that helps fund atrocities, UN investigators said Monday.

The investigators urged the international community to sever links with the armed forces’ dizzying economic holdings – that they said dwarf those of any other civilian company in Myanmar.

Cutting ties will “impair its ability to carry out military operations without oversight and thus reduce violations of human rights and international humanitarian law”, said Marzuki Darusman, chair of the fact-finding mission, at the launch of the report in Jakarta.

The team last year called for Myanmar’s senior generals to be prosecuted for genocide after a 2017 crackdown forced some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh.

At least 15 foreign firms have joint ventures with the military, according to the UN report, while 44 others have some form of commercial ties.

Two main military-owned conglomerates – Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) – as well as numerous subsidiaries and “crony companies” have interests in everything from jade and ruby mining to real estate and tourism.

The military also controls two large banks.

But the companies do not release full financial results to the public, shielding themselves from public scrutiny.

The UN probe argued that the army’s “business empire” allows it to evade accountability and oversight.

The 111-page report also detailed how dozens of companies donated more than $10 million to the military amid operations against the Rohingya.

They later helped finance development projects to help the military “erase evidence of Rohingya belonging to Myanmar”.

The report called for criminal investigations into these companies and urged for a complete ban on arms sales to Myanmar.

Watchdog Global Witness called the report a rallying cry.

“Global governments and companies who find themselves connected to a military company can therefore no longer plead ignorance,” said Myanmar campaign leader Paul Donowitz.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s military said he was unable to comment.

The report comes after the US announced a travel ban on Myanmar’s army chief last month, the strongest censure yet from a Western power since the Rohingya crisis.

The military remains politically powerful in the country despite a transition to democratic rule launched in 2011.

It still controls a quarter of parliament and three key ministries, including defence.

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