The US is planning to impose sanctions on two conglomerates controlled by Myanmar’s military over the generals Feb. 1 coup and a deadly crackdown, two sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The move by the US Treasury to blacklist Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL) and freeze any assets they hold in the US could come as early as Thursday, sources said.
Responding to a request for comment, MEHL general manager Hla Myo said in an email to Reuters: “The company is basically focusing on business and has no immediate response for now.”
MEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Myanmar’s generals staged a takeover on the first day of parliament in February, detaining civilian leaders including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won elections in November. The military claimed there was voter fraud but observers said there were no significant irregularities.
The coup sparked a widespread uprising, and security forces have responded with violence, killing at least 275 people.
US President Joe Biden issued an executive order on February 11 paving the way for new sanctions against the Myanmar military and its interests. The order froze about $1 billion in reserves Myanmar’s central bank was holding at the New York Fed, which the junta had attempted to withdraw after seizing power.
The US and Britain, as well as the European Union and Canada, have already imposed some sanctions against top generals including Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing and the chief’s adult children.
But aside from three gemstone companies hit by US sanctions in February and US Commerce Department export blacklisting against the conglomerates, sanctions had until now not targeted the military’s business interests.
The military controls vast swathes of Myanmar’s economy through the holding firms and their subsidiaries, with interests ranging from beer and cigarettes to telecom, tires, mining and real estate.
Activists have been calling for sanctions to starve the military of revenue, and want governments to go further and hit oil and gas projects that are a major source of revenue to Myanmar.
The White House National Security Council referred inquiries to the Treasury Department, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.