New EU sanctions target Myanmar military’s lucrative gas firm

Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise added to the latest round of sanctions after years of campaigning.

Myanamr security forces in the back of a truck
Myanmar security forces have been accused of worsening human rights abuses since the coup more than a year ago with Western countries imposing sanctions [File: AP Photo]

The European Union has expanded sanctions imposed on Myanmar after last year’s coup to include a state-owned oil and gas company that is a lucrative source of income for the military, as well as several top officials.

The measures announced on Monday mean 65 officials and 10 companies have now been targeted in asset freezes and visa bans by the EU since the military seized power on February 1 last year.

Among the companies sanctioned was the state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which is a joint venture partner in all offshore gas projects in Myanmar, including the Yadana gas field with Total Energies and Chevron. Last month, Total and Chevron said they were leaving Myanmar because of worsening human rights abuses committed by the military.

The sanctioned individuals included the ministers for investment, industry and information, officials at the election commission and senior members of the military.

“The European Union is deeply concerned by the continuing escalation of violence in Myanmar and the evolution towards a protracted conflict with regional implications,” the bloc said in a statement.

“Since the military coup, the situation has continuously and gravely deteriorated.”

It repeated calls for “an immediate cessation of all hostilities, and an end to the disproportionate use of force and the state of emergency”.

The sanctions on MOGE come after a long campaign by human rights groups within Myanmar and around the world, who argued that sanctioning MOGE would cut off a significant source of the military’s funds. About 50 percent of Myanmar’s foreign currency comes from natural gas revenues, with MOGE expected to earn $1.5bn from offshore and pipeline projects in 2021-2022, according to a Myanmar government forecast.

“It is vital… that the European Union enforce these measures effectively, and that energy companies now withdrawing from Myanmar do so in a way that doesn’t further benefit the junta,” John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“The European Union must implement these measures in ways that ensure that energy companies’ shares in oil and gas operations are not simply transferred or relinquished to junta-controlled entities – an outcome that would only enrich the junta further,” he said.

The London-based Burma Campaign welcomed the announcement, noting it was the first time sanctions had been imposed by the EU that were not in response to a specific atrocity.

“These sanctions are significant and welcome,” Anna Roberts, the executive director of Burma Campaign UK, said in a statement. “By targeting the oil and gas sector the EU has leapfrogged the USA, targeting one of the main sources of revenue for the military. The USA, which has broader sanctions powers than the EU, must follow.”

The coup has plunged Myanmar into turmoil. Mass protests have turned into regular skirmishes between the military and using force against those opposed to the coup leaving more than 1,500 people dead, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group.

Some anti-coup protesters have also formed armed units and joined forces with ethnic armed groups to battle the military.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies