How to hurt Myanmar’s coup leaders, say activists End-shutdown

youhe United States imposed new sanctions on the top leaders of Myanmar’s military junta on Monday, the eve of the first anniversary of the overthrow of the country’s democratically elected government and the imprisonment of its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The United States, along with the United Kingdom and Canada, announced sanctions on officials who helped prosecute Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was arrested in the February 1, 2021 coup. Myanmar courts sentenced her to a total of six years in prison starting on January 10, but she faces additional charges.

Washington also imposed sanctions on the scion of the Kyaw Thaung Familythan the New York Times he reported has strong ties to the Myanmar military and helped it purchase equipment. The sanctions also targeted a Myanmar government agency responsible for procuring weapons for the military, known locally as the Tatmadaw.

But Myanmar activists and observers say targeted sanctions will do little to deter a brutal regime that is increasingly isolated from the West and determined to quell resistance to its rule with violent crackdown. More than 1,500 people have been killed in encounters with the junta across the country, according to the human rights group Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners.

“I think it’s fair to say that the West has had little influence in Myanmar both politically and on the ground since the coup,” says John Nielsen, a senior analyst at the Danish Institute for International Studies and a former Danish ambassador to Myanmar.

Pro-democracy protesters have long called on the international community to find ways to cut off the junta’s sources of income. And since last year’s coup, several Western companies, including energy giants Total Energies from France and gallons from the US — have vowed to pull business out of Myanmar because of human rights abuses in the country.

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The junta’s leader, Min Aung Hlaing, and other members of the Tatmadaw were already sanctioned by the United States and other nations. human rights observer has urged the United Nations Security Council to impose a legally binding global arms embargo on Myanmar.

But in addition to punitive measures, Burmese exiles say the international community must work to protect people suffering under junta rule. London-based Burmese activist and academic Maung Zarni says neighboring states should open their borders to Burmese refugees fleeing the Tatmadaw.

They are also wary of dialogue with military leaders, which is favored by neighboring countries, including some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition, a global network of Rohingya activists and allies, says many Burmese protesters feel such talks will only serve to cement the coup leaders’ legitimacy.

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But not everyone is avoiding the Tatmadaw. Russia has been criticized for warming up in Myanmar after the coup, keep selling guns and their officers present board run events. China also has ongoing dealings with Myanmar, but has taken a more ambivalent stance, urging ”to restart the democratic process” in the Southeast Asian country while engaging with both the Tatmadaw and the ethnic armed forces. “China’s main objectives in Myanmar are to ensure stability at the borders and gain access to the Indian Ocean through an economic corridor from Kunming to Rakhine. They will work with any party to the conflict to achieve these goals, and that is, in essence, what they are doing,” says Nielsen.

Jason Tower, director for Myanmar at the US Institute of Peace, says there needs to be a regional approach to the crisis, as companies closely aligned with the junta operate in neighboring states. If the US and its allies can convince Myanmar’s neighbors, including Thailand and India, to crack down on these companies, it could have a dramatic effect on the flow of cash to military leaders.

But the window for such action may be closing. Cambodia took over the ASEAN presidency in 2022. And Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is no friend of democracy,has given a conditional invitation to Myanmar’s coup leader. Last year, the nine countries banned myanmar junta representative to attend their meetings.

More and more activists say they cannot trust the international community to support their cause to restore democratic rule in Myanmar. They are putting their faith in ethnic minority militias that have long fought the Tatmadaw and the People’s Defense Forces, an armed group made up of members of Myanmar’s shadow government-in-exile and pro-democracy protesters. . “If we want to be free, we have to fight for ourselves,” says Zarni.

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