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U.S. sanctions two people, six entities for supplying Myanmar with jet fuel

The United States Treasury Department has announced additional sanctions on Myanmar to prevent supplies of jet fuel from reaching the military in response to airstrikes on populated areas and other atrocities.

The sanctions came just days before Myanmar celebrated its 78th Armed Forces Day on Monday.

The announcement on Friday targeted two individuals, Tun Min Latt and his wife Win Min Soe, and six companies including, Asia Sun Trading Co. Ltd., which purchased jet fuel for the junta’s air force; Cargo Link Petroleum Logistics Co. Ltd., which transports jet fuel to military bases; and Asia Sun Group, the “key operator in the jet fuel supply chain.”

The statement said that since the Feb. 1, 2021 coup that overthrew the country’s democratically elected government, the junta continually targeted the people of Myanmar with atrocities and violence, including airstrikes in late 2022 in Let Yet Kone village in central Myanmar that hit a school with children and teachers inside, and another in Kachin state that targeted a music concert and killed 80 people.

According to a March 3 report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, junta-led airstrikes more than doubled from 125 in 2021 to 301 in 2022.

Those airstrikes would have been impossible without access to fuel supplies, according to reports from civil society organizations, Friday’s announcement said. 

“Burma’s military regime continues to inflict pain and suffering on its own people,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “The United States remains steadfast in its commitment to the people of Burma, and will continue to deny the military the materiel it uses to commit these atrocities.”

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Helicopters and other aircraft are displayed at the Diamond Jubilee celebration of Myanmar’s air force, Dec. 15, 2022. on diamond Jubilee celebration of the Military Air Force. Credit: Myanmar military

The announcement named Tun Min Latt as the key individual in procuring fuel supplies for the military, saying he was a close associate of the junta’s leader Sr. Gen Min Aung Hlaing. Through his companies, he engaged in business to import military arms and equipment with U.S. sanctioned Chinese arms firm NORINCO, the announcement said.

“The United States continues to promote accountability for the Burmese military regime’s assault on the democratic aspirations of the people of Burma,” said U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a separate statement. “The regime continues to inflict pain and suffering on the people of Burma.”

The additional sanctions by the U.S. aligned with actions taken by Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union, Blinken said.

Cutting bloodlines

“I am very thankful to the United States for these sanctions,” Nay Phone Lat, the spokesperson for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, told Radio Free Asia’s Burmese Service. “I know that sanctions are usually done one step after another. It’s like cutting the bloodlines of the military junta one after another.”

He said that the shadow government was trying to cut each route of support for the junta, including jet fuel, one after another.

“[The junta’s] capability of suppressing and killing innocent civilians will be lessened,” he said.

Banyar, the director of the Karenni Human Rights Group, which was among 516 civil organizations that made a request in December to the United Kingdom to take immediate action to prevent British companies from transporting or selling jet fuel to the Myanmar military junta, told RFA that the U.S. sanctions would have many impacts. 

“If you look at the patterns, the number one thing is that taking action against these companies that provide services to the junta directly discredits the military junta,” he said. “And the sanctioned companies are also punished in some ways. We can say that this is also a way to pressure other companies to not support the military junta.”

But Myanmar has been sanctioned before to little effect, said Thein Tun Oo, executive director of Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, which is made up of former military officers.

“No matter what sanctions are imposed, there will not be any major impact on Myanmar as it has learned how to survive through sanctions. There may be a little percentage of economic slowdown but that’s about it,” he said.

The military has many options when it comes to buying jet fuel, said Thein Tun Oo.

“We are not buying from just one source that they have just sanctioned, we can buy from all other sources. Jet fuel is produced from not just one place,” he said. “If we want it from countries in affiliation with the United States, we may have problems but the United States is not the only country that produces jet fuel, so there is no problem for the Myanmar military.”

The military could look to China, Thailand, India or Russia for jet fuel if necessary, political analyst Than Soe Naing told RFA.

“The sanctions imposed against the Myanmar military are little more than an expression of opinion, in my point of view, as they cannot actually restrict the junta effectively from getting what it needs,” said Than Soe Naing. “The reason is that the three neighboring countries and Russia can still supply the junta with the jet fuel from many other routes.”

Ze Thu Aung, a former Air Force captain who left the military to join an armed resistance movement after the coup, told RFA that U.S. sanctions are not enough to stop the junta.

“Whatever sanctions [Washington] imposes, the military junta can still survive as it is still in control of its major businesses such as the jade, oil and natural gas industries,” he said. “They have enormous funds left. They have Russia backing them as well. China is supporting them to some extent, too.”

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Eugene Whong and Matt Reed.