United States to offer temporary protection status to Myanmar nationals

The Biden administration has agreed to offer temporary protection status to Myanmar nationals living in the United States, including several diplomats, in an escalation of its response to the military coup, according to two senior officials.

The Homeland Security Department’s decision would give around 1,600 citizens of the Southeast Asian country protected status for 18 months, officials said. Temporary Protected Status allows undocumented nationals whose countries of origin are insecure the right to live and work in the United States.

The Biden administration is seeking to step up pressure on Min Aung Hlaing’s junta, whose security forces have killed at least 70 peaceful protesters since taking power on February 1, according to the UN.

Washington’s decision to give refuge to diplomats comes after divisions in Myanmar Foreign Service, which saw several officials, including the country’s ambassadors to the UN and the UK, denounce the coup and declare their loyalty to the ousted government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar’s embassy in Washington released a statement earlier this month saying it was “deeply saddened” by the deaths of protesters and expressing “strong opposition and rejection” of the use of lethal force. Maung Maung Latt resigned from his post as first secretary of the US embassy following the coup.

Since the coup began in February, the Biden administration has already sanctioned 12 military leaders, three subsidiaries of a military conglomerate and six companies controlled by two of the children of Burmese military leader Min Aung Hlaing.

But human rights groups want Washington to go further and sanction two military-controlled conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation, as well as the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise.

State-owned MOGE is not controlled by the military, but campaigners want profits from its Yadana offshore gas project, operated by Total in partnership with Chevron, the Thai PTT, to be withheld until the junta leaves power.

U.S. officials told the Financial Times they had previously discussed the implications of Biden’s new sanctions regime with the U.S. business community, but declined to comment on any future action.

“We have every intention of continuing to increase the pressure on army revenue streams and ill-gotten wealth from military leaders until we see positive change,” a senior administration official said. .

Burmese workers at Chevron and Total are among the protesters who have joined a mass civil disobedience movement aimed at crippling the government and the economy, with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the military regime.

Some protesters held up banners calling on the two companies to “stop fueling the coup,” according to footage and film footage seen by the FT.

Chevron said he condemns human rights violations and supports the people of Myanmar “on their journey to a modern, peaceful and prosperous democracy.”

Asked about the possibility of sanctions, the US company said, “While we do not speculate on potential future actions, Chevron will comply with all applicable laws, including, but not limited to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. of the United States, all applicable anti-corruption measures. economic laws and sanctions. ”

Total declined to comment on the possibility of sanctions against the MOGE. The company referred the FT to a statement it made after the coup about its commitment to a “business environment that respects human rights.”

However, industry executives have raised questions privately about the practical implications of sanctioning the Yadana project, which supplies 50 percent of the gas used to generate electricity in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.

The latest American initiatives come against a backdrop of international outcry on junta violence against civilians, including adolescents. Amnesty International this week accused the regime of using “tactics and weapons normally seen on the battlefield” against unarmed urban protesters.

Joe Biden also spoke about coordinating responses to the Myanmar crisis with leaders from Australia, Japan and India at a meeting on Friday, officials said.

The UN Security Council this week approved a statement condemning the use of violence and expressing “deep concern” at the regime’s restrictions on medical personnel, civil society, unions and journalists.

The statement surprised seasoned diplomatic observers because China and Russia endorsed it.

“What this text really does is signal to the generals that they do not have China’s unconditional support in New York, and if they escalate the violence further, they risk facing more condemnation. the UN, ”said UN member Richard Gowan. expert at the International Crisis Group.

Follow @KatrinaManson and @JohnReedwrites on Twitter

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