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US levies sanctions against Burmese general

The United States has stepped back from a half-decade effort to forge closer relations with Burma, condemning a top general to a blacklist of shame for his role in atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.

The new sanctions were the most serious US response so far to what it calls "ethnic cleansing" in the western part of the Southeast Asian nation.

The Trump administration announced penalties against 13 people worldwide in all. They included Gambia's former president, the daughter of Uzbekistan's late dictator and the son of Russia's prosecutor-general.

The sanctions were the first set imposed under a 2016 law, named after a Russian lawyer who died in prison, that empowers the Treasury Department to target officials anywhere for human rights violations and corruption.

The inclusion of Burma's Maung Maung Soe on the list was perhaps the most dramatic move in US foreign policy. Washington progressively eased economic and political sanctions against Burma starting in 2012 to reward the country's shift toward democracy after decades of military rule. Ties expanded further as Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi rose to power.

But the relationship has soured since Burma's crackdown in Rakhine province, which has forced 630,000 people to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. Maung Maung Soe was until last month the military commander in Rakhine, and the US said he was responsible for "widespread human rights abuse", including credible evidence of mass killings, rapes and villages being burned.

Other prominent individuals punished on Thursday include:

:: Yahya Jammeh, Gambia's former president. He is alleged to have created an armed squad known as "the Junglers" that terrorised and killed numerous political foes, including religious leaders, journalists and dissidents, while he was in power from 1994 to 2017. Jammeh is also accused of plundering his country's treasury by stealing at least 50 million dollars in state funds.

:: Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the late Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov. She is said to have headed an organised crime syndicate that used government agencies to expropriate businesses, monopolise markets, solicit bribes and run extortion rackets.

:: Artem Chaika, son of Russia's Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika. The younger Chaika is accused of using his family connections to unfairly buy state-owned assets and win contracts, as well as harass and interfere with competitors.

The Treasury Department's action freezes any assets these people have under US jurisdiction. Americans are banned from doing business with the individuals. It is unclear whether these people have extensive financial holdings or relationships in the United States. But the blacklist is designed to cause reputation al damage that would get banks in Europe, Asia and elsewhere to also cut ties.

"Today, the United States is taking a strong stand against human rights abuse and corruption globally by shutting these bad actors out of the US financial system," treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said. He said the penalties send a "message that there is a steep price to pay for their misdeeds".

The penalties are the first batch released under the Magnitsky Global Act.

Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer hired by Hermitage Capital, a hedge fund owned by British citizen William Browder. After accusing Russian officials of carrying out 230 million dollar tax fraud, he was charged with tax evasion and put in prison, where he died in 2009 at 37. An official Russian probe blamed a heart attack, but Russia's presidential council on human rights concluded he had been beaten and denied medical treatment.

On Wednesday, the United States levied sanctions on five Russian officials under an earlier law, also named after Magnitsky, specifically targeting Russian officials.

Among the others on Thursday's global list were an Israeli businessman alleged to have earned billions of dollars through corrupt mineral and oil deals with the president of Congo; a Serbian arms dealer; a Pakistani transplant specialist blamed for trafficking human organs and taking kidneys from people against their will; a former Chinese security director said to have mistreated human rights activists; and a former Ukrainian police commander blamed for beating and killing peaceful protesters in 2014.


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