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)

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.

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