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U.S. blacklists Myanmar army general who it says oversaw atrocities against Rohingya Muslims

By Shashank Bengali
December 22, 2017

The Trump administration on Thursday blacklisted a Myanmar army general who it said oversaw human rights abuses committed by security forces against Rohingya Muslims.

Imposing economic sanctions against the general, Maung Maung Soe, was the toughest action the United States has taken in response to a brutal army offensive that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has described as ethnic cleansing.

In a statement, the Treasury Department said it had examined “credible evidence of Maung Maung Soe’s activities, including allegations against Burmese security forces of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and arbitrary arrest as well as the widespread burning of villages.”

The Rohingya are an ethnic and religious minority of about 1 million people in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, also known as Burma. The United Nations says that more than 640,000 Rohingya have fled the country since August, after the army launched “clearance operations” in response to attacks carried out by a Rohingya insurgent group against security forces.

Rohingya refugees in crowded camps in neighboring Bangladesh have described horrific violence by Myanmar forces, including mass rapes, summary executions and children being burned alive.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders estimates that 6,700 people were killed in the first month of the operation. Myanmar authorities deny committing atrocities and say that only a few hundred “fighters” were killed.

Maung Maung Soe was chief of the army’s Western Command, which carried out the offensive. He was transferred from his position last month, according to news reports.

He was one of 13 individuals worldwide who were blacklisted Thursday under a new U.S. law that gives the Treasury Department authority to target officials for human rights abuses and corruption. Others included former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh; Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the late Uzbekistan dictator Islam Karimov; and Artem Chaika, son of Russia’s prosecutor-general.

“Today, the United States is taking a strong stand against human rights abuse and corruption globally by shutting these bad actors out of the U.S. financial system,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

The sanctions freeze any assets Maung Maung Soe holds in the United States and bars Americans from doing business with him. It is also a sign of how quickly U.S. relations with Myanmar have soured.

Under the Obama administration, the United States forged closer ties with the former military dictatorship and eased economic and political sanctions as the country began implementing democratic reforms.

But Myanmar, which does not regard the Rohingya as citizens, has lashed out at the international community over the current crisis. It has jailed journalists, blocked access to affected areas in the western state of Rakhine and this week barred a U.N. human rights investigator from entering the country.

Rohingya activists said the U.S. action would not have much effect on a country that survived under economic sanctions for years.

“It is the whole military institution that has a policy to persecute these people,” said Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist and blogger in Germany. “According to the U.S.’s own definition, the army is carrying out ethnic cleansing. They have a responsibility to protect these people. Sanctions on one person are really not enough.”

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