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US blacklists Myanmar general over N. Korea arms deals

Lt. General Thein
Htay is pictured at the Myanmar International Convention Center in Naypyidaw on
August 20, 2011 (AFP/File, Soe Than Win)

AFP
July 2, 2013

WASHINGTON — The
United States placed a Myanmar general on its sanctions blacklist Tuesday for
arms deals with North Korea that violated the UN Security Council embargo on
buying weapons from Pyongyang.

Weeks after a
landmark visit to Washington by Myanmar President Thein Sein celebrated the
thaw in bilateral relations, the US Treasury named Lt. General Thein Htay, the
head of Myanmar’s Directorate of Defense Industries, for the sanctions.

The Treasury said
the general was involved in buying North Korean military goods despite his
government’s support of the Security Council ban.

It said he acted on
behalf of the Directorate of Defense Industries, a Myanmar military agency that
was placed on the US sanctions blacklist in July 2012 for arms deals with North
Korea.

The Treasury
stressed in a statement that the Myanmar government, which until 2010 endured
years of isolation and condemnation by the international community for rights
abuses, was not targeted by the sanctions.

“This action
specifically targets Thein Htay, who is involved in the illicit trade of North
Korean arms to Burma,” the Treasury said, using the former official name
for Myanmar.

“It does not
target the government of Burma, which has continued to take positive steps in
severing its military ties with North Korea.”

The Treasury noted
that the Myanmar government last November “publicly announced its
intention to abide by” the UN Security Council resolution prohibiting
countries from buying military equipment and support from North Korea.

“The international
community has repeatedly condemned North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile
proliferation activity,” the Treasury said.

“North Korea’s
arms trade provides it with an important source of revenue to expand and
enhance its proscribed nuclear and missile programs, which are a threat to
international peace and security.”

The sanctions
announced Tuesday forbid any American from doing business with Thein Htay and
freeze any assets he might have in the United States.

The general was
until early this year Minister for Border Affairs, a position which linked him
to the widely-criticized handling of anti-Moslem violence in one state and its
brutal campaign against the Kachin minority in another.

The blacklisting
came despite a warming of relations between the United States and Myanmar,
after the government introduced democratic reforms.

In May, President
Thein Sein, a former military commander, held talks with US President Barack
Obama in Washington as Myanmar continued to gain distance from its former pariah
status alongside North Korea.

It was the first
visit in nearly 50 years by a Myanmar leader to the White House, and Obama
praised the country’s journey away from brutal junta rule, promising Washington
would offer more political and economic support.

But the US has not
whole-heartedly embraced Myanmar, remaining cautious about its security ties to
Beijing and Pyongyang.