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U.S. targets Myanmar's gemstone industry to cut funds from junta

The United States government on Thursday imposed further sanctions targeting the finances of Myanmar's military. Photo by Xiao Long/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/d968ff5c2d5dca8df8155ac75c4c90c4/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
The United States government on Thursday imposed further sanctions targeting the finances of Myanmar's military. Photo by Xiao Long/UPI | License Photo

April 8 (UPI) -- The United States on Thursday imposed additional punitive sanctions targeting the Myanmar junta over its usurpation of the government and its bloody crackdown on those who protest its coup.

The Treasury said in a statement it was sanctioning state-owned Myanma Gems Enterprise, which is responsible for all gemstone activities in the country.

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Gemstones are a key economic resource for the military regime, it said.

"Today's actions highlights Treasury's commitment to denying the Burmese military sources of funding, including form key state-owned enterprises throughout Burma," Andrea Gacki, director of the Office of the Foreign Assets Control, said, referring to Myanmar by its older name.

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The sanctions, which freeze all property and assets under Myanma Gems Enterprise name while barring U.S. citizens from doing business with it, were imposed under Executive Order 14014 for it being a political instrument of the Myanmar government.

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The Treasury said the enterprise, operated under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, is responsible for managing the mining and marketing of jade and other gems.

"By imposing targeted sanctions on this entity, we are sending a clear signal to the military that the United States will keep increasing pressure on the regime's revenue streams until it ceases its violence, releases all those unjustly detained, lifts martial law and the nationwide state of emergency, removes telecommunications restrictions and restores Burma to the path of democracy," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The United States has repeatedly imposed targeted punitive sanctions against Myanmar military units, companies and generals in response to their ousting of democratically elected officials to usurp control of the country on Feb. 1.

Since the coup, protests that have raged nationwide in opposition have been confronted with escalating military violence, resulting in hundreds of deaths and arrests, including more than 100 people on March 27.

According to Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 614 people have been killed by the state, including 16 in the past two days. More than 2,850 people have also been detained by security forces since the coup, it said.

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The European Union, Canada, Britain and other countries have also imposed sanctions against Myanmar.

Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged the EU to impose additional sanctions against military officials and military-owned companies after EU High Representative Joseph Borrell said further sanctions would be coming.

The rights organization asked for the sanctions to target the country's oil and gas sector as it is the greatest source or revenues for the country.

In the letter to the EU, the organization called for international governments to design coordinated measures to block payments to the junta and state-owned enterprises from foreign-financed oil and gas projects.

"EU Condemnation and efforts to advance accountability and justice for grave, widespread and systematic abuses by the military junta are welcome and important, yet words and partial steps are not enough," it said. "Additional sanctions are urgently needed."

Late Thursday, the ambassadors to Myanmar from Australia, Canada, the EU, Czech Republic, Denmark, the United States and 12 other nations issued a joint statement in support of the protesters and in condemnation of those who were killed, saying they are "humbled by their courage and dignity."

"We are united to accompany the grief of their families and friends. We stand together to support the hopes and aspirations of all those who believe in a free, just, peaceful and democratic Myanmar, where the rights and the potential of all people can be fully respected and developed," the countries said in a joint statement. "Violence has to stop, all political detainees must be released and democracy should be restored."

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