Treasury slaps more sanctions on Myanmar firms

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration, tightening pressure on Myanmar over human rights abuses, on Monday announced more economic sanctions against businesses and individuals linked to the country’s military leaders.

The U.S. Treasury Department said it was banning Americans from doing business with Asia World Co Ltd, a Myanmar company controlled by Steven Law and his father, Lo Hsing Han, who it said was a big figure in the international heroin trade.

The Treasury described both men as “financial operatives” of the Myanmar regime.

It was the fourth set of sanctions under an executive order issued last year in response to Myanmar’s military crackdown against protesters and included a freeze on any assets the firms and individuals may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

Myanmar’s junta in September crushed the biggest pro-democracy protests in nearly 20 years, killing at least 20 people, according to Human Rights Watch. Western governments say the toll may be much higher.

“The situation in Burma remains deplorable,” U.S. President George W. Bush said in a statement, and called for concerted international pressure on Myanmar to achieve a “genuine transition to democracy.”

“The regime has rejected calls from its own people and the international community to begin a genuine dialogue with the opposition and ethnic minority groups. Arrests and secret trials of peaceful political activists continue,” Bush said.

The Treasury said Law and his father, Lo, had a history of illicit activities that supported the Myanmar junta. It called Lo as the “Godfather of Heroin” who has been one of the world’s top traffickers of the drug since the early 1970s.

In 1992, Lo founded Asia World Co Ltd. a company that has received numerous lucrative government concessions, including construction of ports, highways and government facilities, the Treasury said.

Law now serves as managing director of the company, and the sanctions were extended to his wife, Cecelia Ng. The Treasury also blacklisted 10 Singapore-based companies owned by Ng, including property firm Golden Aaron Pte Ltd.

The Treasury designated two hotel chains owned by Myanmar tycoon Tay Za, who was blacklisted in an earlier round of financial sanctions, the Aureum Palace Hotels and Resorts and Myanmar Treasure Resorts

The sanctions have drawn a less than enthusiastic public reaction from Myanmar’s southeast Asian neighbors, including Singapore, a key financial center in the region. Impoverished Laos and Cambodia have denounced the U.S. moves.

Nonetheless, Adam Szubin director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets control, said some governments in the region were quietly cooperating.

“It’s incumbent on financial institutions and governments to take steps to keep dirty money out of their banks and their financial systems. We see indeed financial institutions and governments taking those steps, sometimes not in the public view,” Szubin told reporters.

Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by David Storey