The European Union and Canada on Monday imposed sanctions on senior military officials in Myanmar deemed responsible for human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in troubled Rakhine state where a brutal military campaign last year forced nearly 700,000 to flee to Bangladesh.
The EU has frozen the assets of the seven Myanmar army, border guard, and police officials, including Major General Maung Maung Soe, who was sanctioned by the United States in December. They were also banned from traveling to the bloc.
Maung Maung Soe, the former head of the Myanmar Army’s Western Command during the military operation in northern Rakhine state, was the first high-level military officer to be named in U.S. sanctions for overseeing the campaign of atrocities against the Rohingya.
The seven senior military staff were targeted for their parts in the violence, which included indiscriminate killings, rape, torture, and arson, in what the United Nations has said amounts to ethnic cleansing.
Those subject to sanctions are “listed because of their involvement in or association with atrocities and serious human rights violations committed against the Rohingya population in Rakhine state in the second half of 2017,” a statement issued by the European Council said.
“Today, the European Union and Canada have announced sanctions against some of the key military leaders who were involved in atrocities and human rights violations in Rakhine state, including sexual and gender-based violence,” said Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, in a statement.
“Canada and the international community cannot be silent,” she said. “This is ethnic cleansing. These are crimes against humanity.”
Myanmar has repeatedly denied the ethnic cleansing accusations and argued that the counterinsurgency by security forces was necessary in order to prevent further attacks by a Muslim militant group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which carried out deadly assaults on guard posts in the region in 2016 and 2017.
On April 26, the EU strengthened an existing arms embargo on Myanmar, prohibiting military training and cooperation with the country's army and adopting a legal framework for targeted restrictive measures against certain individuals from the armed forces and border guard police.
After the sanctions were announced, the office of Myanmar military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing issued a statement saying that Maung Maung Soe had been fired for failing in his duty to control the violence during the crackdown in Rakhine state between the two ARSA attacks on Oct. 9, 2016, and Aug. 25, 2017.
Another top military leader, Lieutenant General Aung Kyaw Zaw, also seen as responsible for part of the violence, was transferred to other post, but instead the army honored his request to resign because of a health condition, the statement said.
ICRC chief in Yangon
Meanwhile, Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), arrived in Myanmar on Monday evening and will visit Rakhine state on June 26-28, said Zaw Win, an ICRC spokesman in Yangon.
The ICRC provides basic assistance to those affected by violence in the region.
“He arrived late in Yangon and could meet only the ICRC staff,” Zaw Win said. “He will go to Rakhine tomorrow and will meet with the Rakhine state government. He will travel in northern Rakhine state and to the Maungdaw township ICRC office.”
Maurer will meet State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other government officials on June 29 in Naypyidaw before heading to Bangladesh on Saturday for talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed, Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, and Foreign Affairs Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali.
Maurer will also visit Rohingya refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar district to observe his organization’s work there, Zaw Win said.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.