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EU sanctions 22 Myanmar officials, gas company, over abuses

February 21, 2022 GMT
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, right, speaks with Poland's Foreign Minister Zbiegniew Rau, left, and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. The European Union's top diplomat, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, welcomed the prospect of a summit but said that should diplomacy fail the 27-nation has finalized its package of sanctions for use if Putin orders an invasion. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, right, speaks with Poland's Foreign Minister Zbiegniew Rau, left, and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. The European Union's top diplomat, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, welcomed the prospect of a summit but said that should diplomacy fail the 27-nation has finalized its package of sanctions for use if Putin orders an invasion. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, right, speaks with Poland's Foreign Minister Zbiegniew Rau, left, and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. The European Union's top diplomat, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, welcomed the prospect of a summit but said that should diplomacy fail the 27-nation has finalized its package of sanctions for use if Putin orders an invasion. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
1 of 3
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, right, speaks with Poland's Foreign Minister Zbiegniew Rau, left, and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. The European Union's top diplomat, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, welcomed the prospect of a summit but said that should diplomacy fail the 27-nation has finalized its package of sanctions for use if Putin orders an invasion. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
1 of 3
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, right, speaks with Poland's Foreign Minister Zbiegniew Rau, left, and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. The European Union's top diplomat, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, welcomed the prospect of a summit but said that should diplomacy fail the 27-nation has finalized its package of sanctions for use if Putin orders an invasion. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on several top officials in Myanmar and on a lucrative state-owned oil and gas company that has helped fund the military that overthrew the country’s elected government a year ago.

The bloc imposed asset freezes and travel bans on 22 people and slapped restrictive measures on four entities, including state-owned and private companies.

Among those 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 exiting Myanmar amid rampant human rights abuses committed by the military.

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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% of Myanmar’s foreign currency comes from natural gas revenues, with MOGE expected to earn $1.5 billion from offshore and pipeline projects in 2021-2022, according to a Myanmar government forecast.

Prior rounds of U.S. and European sanctions against the Myanmar military have excluded oil and gas. The Yadana field supplies gas to Myanmar and neighboring Thailand.

EU headquarters said in a statement that the bloc “is deeply concerned by the continuing escalation of violence in Myanmar and the evolution towards a protracted conflict with regional implications. Since the military coup, the situation has continuously and gravely deteriorated.”

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, applauded the EU’s decision, noting that the sanctions against MOGE were particularly important given how crucial the company’s revenues are to the military.

“It is vital, however, 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,” Sifton 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.”

Widespread nonviolent protests in Myanmar followed a Feb. 1, 2021, military takeover that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. An armed resistance grew after peaceful protests were put down. The country now faces an insurgency that some experts characterize as a civil war.

More than 1,500 civilians have been tortured to death or killed in the violence, many of them in attacks in rural areas by security forces, including airstrikes.

The 27-country bloc has now imposed sanctions on a total of 65 people and 10 entities, which are usually organizations, agencies, companies or banks.

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Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.