Australia slaps sanctions on Myanmar army top brass

SYDNEY/YANGON (Reuters) - Australia on Tuesday slapped travel and financial sanctions on five top Myanmar military officers, accused of overseeing brutal violence against Rohingya Muslims by units under their command, following similar moves by the European Union and United States.

FILE PHOTO: The remains of a burned Rohingya village is seen in this aerial photograph near Maungdaw, north of Rakhine State, Myanmar September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh last year, according to U.N. agencies, following a counter-insurgency operation launched by Myanmar’s military after attacks on security posts by Rohingya militants in August last year.

A recent U.N. report accused Myanmar’s military of gang rapes and mass killings with “genocidal intent” and called for its commander-in-chief and five generals to be prosecuted under international law.

Myanmar has denied most of the allegations in the report, blaming Rohingya “terrorists” for most accounts of atrocities.

However Australia, which has previously provided training for Myanmar’s army and refrained from imposing sanctions, on Tuesday responded to the U.N. report by targeting four of the men named, and one other senior commander.

“I have now imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans against five Myanmar military officers responsible for human rights violations committed by units under their command,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.

A separate document named the officers; Aung Kyaw Zaw, Aung Aung, Maung Maung Soe, Than Oo and Khin Maung Soe. It said financial dealings with them can now attract penalties of A$1.7 million ($1.2 million) for companies and 10 years jail for individuals.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not pick up a call seeking comment on Tuesday.

The United States imposed similar restrictions on top generals in August. Like the United States, Australia omitted Myanmar’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing from the sanctions.

The European Union imposed similar restrictions in June.

($1 = 1.4168 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY and Simon Lewis in YANGON; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore