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UN rights expert urges US to go further with sanctions against Myanmar junta

By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.N. human rights expert for Myanmar on Wednesday called on the United States to further tighten sanctions on the country's military rulers to include their main revenue source, the state oil and gas enterprise.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews, a former member of the U.S. Congress, also said it was vital for Washington to at least maintain levels of humanitarian support for victims of the junta inside and outside Myanmar.

Andrews told a hearing of the U.S. Congress's Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission he was "alarmed" by reports that some donors, including the U.S., might reduce support for Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar and said a Joint Response Plan that includes food rations for Rohingya children in Bangladesh was only 32% funded so far this year.

Andrews praised Washington for imposing sanctions on the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank and Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank in June, but said more needed to be done.

"We need to have more sanctions imposed... I urge the U.S. to join the European Union and immediately impose sanctions on the junta's single largest source of revenue, the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise," Andrews said.

"If you can stop the money, you can cut their ability to continue these atrocities," he said referring to civilian deaths at the hands of the military.

Andrews also urged Washington to work with other countries to block the junta's access to weapons.

Last month, Washington expanded its sanctions against Myanmar to include foreign companies or individuals helping the junta to procure jet fuel it uses to launch air strikes, while estimating that the military had killed more than 3,900 civilians since taking power in a 2021 coup.

In January, the United States targeted the managing director and deputy managing director of the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise with sanctions, but has yet to go further against the firm, despite the urgings of rights groups and dissidents.

Myanmar military officials have played down the impact of sanctions and say their air strikes target insurgents.

Andrews said in a May report that Myanmar's military had imported at least $1 billion in arms and other material since the coup and called out Russia and China for aiding its campaign to crush its opposition.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Christopher Cushing)