Myanmar Military Condemns EU and UK Moves to Continue Sanctions

By Htet Naing Zaw 30 April 2020

NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar military said a recent decision by the European Union to extend sanctions against Myanmar military officers, and the UK’s support for those sanctions, have hurt the position and dignity of the military as it works to implement its “Standard Army” reforms.

The EU on April 23 decided to keep sanctions in place against 14 top-ranking Myanmar security personnel. The UK Treasury made the decision public on April 27. The UK left the EU on Jan. 31 but is bound under its exit agreement to continue applying the bloc’s sanctions for the rest of this year.

The sanctions freeze any UK assets held by the officers and criminalize financial transactions with them, for anyone in the UK. The officers are also barred from entering the UK.

The UK and other Western countries imposed sanctions on the group of 14 military leaders over alleged human rights violations during military operations in northern Rakhine State in 2017.

Myanmar military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy that the sanctions were in keeping with Western countries’ usual practice. He stressed that they are just continuing with the usual pattern.

“Our Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] is building a Standard Army that meets international norms. [The extension of sanctions] tarnishes our political image and afflicts our position and dignity,” he added.

“The UK follows what the EU does; I haven’t seen other EU members’ separate statements on the sanctions,” he said.

Former Lieutenant General Aung Kyaw Zaw, one of the 14 individuals targeted by the sanctions, was the commander of the Bureau of Special Operations No. 3 until the end of 2017, overseeing the army’s Western Command in Rakhine State.

He was allowed to resign from his position by the Tatmadaw in 2018 due to his role in alleged human rights violations. Among the other high-ranking officers sanctioned are former Major General Nyi Nyi Swe and former Police Brigadier General Thura San Lwin of the Border Guard Police Force.

U Thein Tun Oo, director of the Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank formed by ex-military officers, said he didn’t think the extension of the sanctions would have any particular impact.

He claimed that the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic rebel group fighting the Myanmar military in northern Rakhine State, was recently active in the west of the Mayu Mountain Range, where the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) was previously active.

He added that the Tatmadaw now has to brace for possible ARSA operations in Rakhine and must be careful as it may come under additional international pressure if and when the ARSA is active again.

“According to the information we have, ARSA is gathering its forces to launch operations again,” said U Thein Tun Oo.

According to political researcher and former military officer Dr. Aung Myo, sanctions from Western countries will do more harm than good. He said that such actions will push the Myanmar military further away from them as well as from the practices and norms of international armies.

“There is little transparency in our country. The Tatmadaw has no tradition at all [of transparency]. It is the job [of Western countries] to talk the Tatmadaw into establishing that tradition, not to isolate them,” said Dr. Aung Myo.

“The more they shun, the further the Tatmadaw will move away from that tradition, the further [the Tatmadaw] will be from what they want,” he added.

The US Treasury Department has also imposed equivalent sanctions against the same Myanmar military officers.

Myanmar expert Bertil Lintner wrote in an article for Asia Times in 2018 that the US sanctions have no impact because the sanctioned officers don’t have plans to travel to the US and have no assets there. He suggested that such sanctions will only push Myanmar toward China.

Note: This story was updated on May 1, 2020 to clarify that the decision to extend sanctions was made by the EU, not the UK.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

You may also like these stories:

Myanmar Govt Offers to Pay Factory Workers 40% During COVID-19 Inspection Closures

More than 1,800 Yangon Factories to Reopen After Passing Myanmar’s COVID-19 Tests