US sanctions against Myanmar military get mixed reception

Some locals see measures as pointless, others consider them effective in stopping worsening rights abuses
US sanctions against Myanmar military get mixed reception

A Myanmar military guard of honor marches during a ceremony in Yangon. The U.S. is slapping sanctions on the military for human rights abuses. (Photo by Ye Aung Thu/AFP)

U.S. sanctions against several Myanmar military officers and two army units over severe human rights abuses have provoked mixed reactions in the Southeast Asian nation.

On Aug. 17, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it was targeting four security force officials and the Myanmar Army's 33rd and 99th Light Infantry Divisions with sanctions.

"Burmese security forces have engaged in violent campaigns against ethnic minority communities across Burma, including ethnic cleansing, massacres, sexual assault, extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights abuses," Sigal P. Mandelker, a senior treasury official, said in a statement.

"There must be justice for the victims and those who work to uncover these atrocities, with those responsible held to account for these abhorrent crimes. The U.S. government is committed to ensuring that Burmese military units and leaders reckon with and put a stop to these brutal acts."

The statement highlighted the military's abuses in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine State, where more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after a Myanmar military crackdown which responded to attacks by Rohingya militants last August.

Myanmar's military has yet to respond publicly to the U.S. sanctions.

Kyaw Nyunt, pastor of the Judson Church in Yangon, said the sanctions will not greatly affect Myanmar's political, economic and social situation. It was just a signal of political pressure, he said.

"What I see is how both the civilian and military leaders need to collaborate together in tackling the Rohingya issue while facing pressure from the international community," said Kyaw Nyunt a former member of the Rakhine investigation commission.

Ashin Ariya Wuntha Bhiwunsa, a Mandalay-based monk involved in interfaith programs, said the sanctions are necessary to pressure the country's military leaders.

"If we don't use stick policies such as sanctions, the Myanmar military may have free rein to commit rights abuses in the country," Ariya Wuntha told ucanews.com.

Pe Than, a lower house MP for the hard-line Buddhist Arakan National Party in Rakhine, said Myanmar's sovereignty needs to be considered first.

"Western countries including the U.S. are pressuring the country, wanting to use the label of genocide in Rakhine," said Pe Than, an ethnic Rakhine. "The U.S. wants to put the military leaders on trial at the International Criminal Court.

Kyaw Min, chairman of Democracy and Human Rights, a Yangon-based Rohingya party, said he doesn't think the sanctions solve the Rohingya issue.

He said Myanmar's leaders, be they military or civilian, are all in the same boat when it comes to the Rohingya, whom they consider to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

"Aung San Suu Kyi, a democracy icon, failed to speak out over the rights abuses in Rakhine," said Kyaw Min. "I see her as the main stumbling block in tackling the Rohingya issue." 

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Khin Zaw Win, director of the Yangon-based Tampadipa Institute, said the sanctions are a necessary step in acquiring a sense of justice of what has occurred in Rakhine.

"It signals that more punitive measures will come if the military top brass don't change their attitudes and show commitment to tackling rights abuses," Khin Zaw Win told ucanews.com. "It is a worrying for the country's future if we can't handle it properly and fail to take responsibility for what has occurred."

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