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Canada, UK sanction Myanmar generals

Myanmar military generals accused of rights violations are facing sanctions from Britain and Canada. Human Rights Watch has said coup leaders will only listen to their "pocketbook."

Demonstrators display a banner with an image of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a protest in Yangon

Demonstrators display a banner with an image of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a protest in Yangon

Britain and Canada imposed asset freezes and travel bans on generals behind Myanmar's recent coup as protesters, including state railway workers, continued calls Thursday for the release of political prisoners, including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Targeted by Britain were three generals, Myanmar's Defense Minister Mya Tun Oo, Minister for Home Affairs Soe Htut, and his deputy Than Hlaing.

Ottawa blacklisted the defense and home affairs ministers as well as seven other officials, freezing any assets they had in Canada as well as potential financial dealings with them.

Already the US had imposed sanctions on the leaders of Myanmar's February 1 military coup.

Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said Ottawa's move was part of a "united response" over the military's "disregard" for Myanmar democratic rights.

Target 'pocketbook,' urges HRW

In an interview with DW, Human Rights Watch's executive director Kenneth Roth said targeting the senior generals meant "going after the businesses that the military owns and that it uses to finance the coup and its repression."

"The junta will listen to their pocketbooks," said Roth, seemingly referring to two conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation. 

Roth said there were signs that Myanmar soldiers were "tempted to just switch sides to join the demonstrators."

"The only way to keep them in line is to keep paying them, to keep paying for the machinery of repression that requires income," he added.

China's government, which had "watered down" a UN Human Rights Council resolution last Friday, was "terrified of the idea of a popular uprising overthrowing a dictatorial government," Roth reckoned.

Among Myanmar's key foreign revenue sources are extractive industries, such as gas and oil drilling, and jade mining.

Economy weakened by protest

With three-quarters of Mynamar's civil servants on strike and private banks closed, state railway workers remained aligned with civil disobedience Thursday, said Tom Andrews, an independent British expert on Myanmar human rights.

Protesters had weakened the economy significantly, said Andrews, and they were looking to the international community to apply tough sanctions and diplomacy.

In curfew-subdued Mandalay on Wednesday night, gunshots were heard as two dozen men in police uniforms marched past railway workers' housing. 

Unconfirmed reports spoke of rubber bullet wounds and several workers being arrested. 

In Myanmar's south Thursday, some 200 people protested at Kanbauk, outside pipeline facilities that pump gas from offshore fields for export.

The demonstrators approached the premises of Total of France, PTTEP of Thailand and Petronas of Malaysia, and later joined a larger Kanbauk rally.

In Yangon, protesters abandoned cars in the middle of roads, trying to hinder security forces. In the capital Naypyidaw, water cannons were used against demonstrators.

Quad calls for government's restoration

From Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the Quad grouping that includes India, USA and Australia "strongly oppose all unilateral attempts to change [Myanmar's] status quo by force." 

Motegi said the four, during a virtual conference Thursday, saw the "urgent need to restore the democratically elected government in Burma," now Myanmar.

On February 1, Myanmar's military overthrew the civilian government, alleging fraud during November elections won by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in what was internationally seen as a landslide.

Group doubts British clout

On Britain's sanctions, the activist group Burma Campaign UK said it would only amount to constraints on the generals' leisure travel.

"These military leaders won't have any assets in the UK to freeze, so the practical outcome of these type of sanctions is that they can't take holidays in the UK," said Mark Farmaner, the campaigns director.

ipj/sri (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

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