The United States on Thursday announced new sanctions targeting the country’s multi-billion dollar jade industry, a sector long controlled by Myanmar military figures responsible for ousting the country’s democratically elected government in a coup on Feb. 1.
The move follows economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and UK at the end of March on other military companies controlled by the junta, and aims to block the flow of revenue supporting junta leaders and military operations in Myanmar that have killed more than 600 civilian protesters to date.
“Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Myanma Gems Enterprise (MGE), a Burmese state-owned entity that is responsible for all gemstone activities in Burma,” the Department added in a statement Thursday.
“Gemstones are a key economic resource for the Burmese military regime that is violently repressing pro-democracy protests in the country and that is responsible for the ongoing lethal attacks against the people of Burma, including the killing of children,” the Treasury Department said, referring to Myanmar by an earlier name.
“These sanctions are not directed at the people of Burma,” the Department said.
All property or property interests of MGE in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are now “blocked and must be reported to OFAC,” the Department said.
The U.S. action comes as Myanmar military leaders take part in a large gems emporium held in the capital Naypyidaw under the auspices of MGE, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken added in a statement Thursday announcing the sanctions.
By its sixth day, almost $2.5 million worth of jade had already been sold at the event, the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported on Thursday.
The United States will continue to put pressure on the Myanmar junta “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,” Blinken said.
The U.S. and Britain had earlier leveled economic sanctions in March on two Myanmar military holding companies that also serve as a critical economic lifeline for the junta, designating Myanma Economic Holdings Public Co., Ltd. (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited (MEC).
And in July 2019, then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and three other senior Myanmar military generals for travel sanctions for their roles in a 2017 army campaign that killed thousands of Rohingya and drove more than 700,000 of the Muslim ethnic minority into Bangladesh.
In 2015, Global Witness—an NGO tracking resource and corruption issues around the world—estimated the value of Myanmar’s jade production at $31 billion.
In December, the pre-coup Myanmar government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy announced the suspension until January of large-scale jade mining activities in Kachin state, home to the world’s largest jade mine and a magnet for poor scavengers, in the face of surging coronavirus infections.