The European Union has imposed sanctions on 11 officials in Myanmar, mostly top military officers, who are accused of involvement in a coup and the violent crackdown on protesters that followed.
Ten of the 11 targeted with asset freezes and travel bans are senior members of the Myanmar armed forces, including commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, and deputy-commander-in-chief, Soe Win, the EU said.
The other heads the election commission and is accused over his role in cancelling last year’s polls.
Myanmar’s military junta prevented parliament from convening on February 1. It claimed that last November’s elections, won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in a landslide, were tainted by fraud. The election commission that confirmed the victory has since been replaced by the junta.
The coup reversed years of slow progress towards democracy in Myanmar after five decades of military rule. In the face of persistent strikes and protests against the takeover, the junta has responded with an increasingly violent crackdown and efforts to limit the information reaching the outside world.
Internet access has been severely restricted, private newspapers have been barred from publishing, and protesters, journalists and politicians have been arrested in large numbers.
The sanctions were announced as the BBC said that a journalist from its Burmese-language service was released by authorities in Myanmar.
The journalist, Aung Thura, was detained on March 19 by men who appeared to be plain-clothed security agents while reporting outside a court in the capital of Naypyitaw.
The EU statement, issued during a meeting of foreign ministers, said the sanctions are part of the 27-nation bloc’s “robust response to the illegitimate overthrowing of the democratically-elected government and the brutal repression by the junta against peaceful protesters”.
“The EU will continue to review all of its policy options, including additional restrictive measures against economic entities owned or controlled by the military,” the statement said, while ensuring that the “measures do not have an adverse effect on the general population”.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas said that “what we are seeing in the way of excesses of violence there is absolutely unacceptable, the number of killings has taken on intolerable dimensions”.
“We don’t want to punish the population in Myanmar with sanctions, but those who are blatantly violating human rights there,” Mr Maas added.