WASHINGTON — The United States on Thursday stepped back from a half-decade effort to forge closer relations with Myanmar, condemning a top general to a blacklist of shame for his role in atrocities against Rohingya Muslims. The new sanctions were the most serious U.S. response so far to what it calls “ethnic cleansing” in the western part of the Southeast Asian nation.
The Trump administration announced penalties against 13 people worldwide in all. They included Gambia’s former president, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s late dictator and the son of Russia’s prosecutor general. The sanctions were the first set imposed under a 2016 law, named after a Russian lawyer who died in prison, that empowers the Treasury Department to target officials anywhere for human rights violations and corruption.
The inclusion of Myanmar’s Maung Maung Soe on the list was perhaps the most dramatic move in terms of U.S. foreign policy. Washington progressively eased economic and political sanctions against Myanmar starting in 2012 to reward the country for its shift toward democracy after decades of military rule. Ties expanded further as Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi rose to power.
But the relationship has soured since Myanmar’s crackdown in Rakhine state, which has forced 650,000 people to flee to neighboring Bangladesh and, according to aid group Doctors Without Borders, left thousands dead. Maung Maung Soe was until last month the military commander in Rakhine, and the U.S. said he was responsible for “widespread human rights abuse,” citing credible evidence of mass killings, rapes and villages being burned.
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