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Politics

Amnesty urges Kirin and Posco to cut ties with Myanmar partner

Human rights group says Myanma Economic Holdings funds military and pays generals

Myanmar's Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, pictured here at the presidential palace at Naypyitaw in March 2018, has been sanctioned by the U.S. for human rights violations.    © Reuters

YANGON -- A Myanmar conglomerate created and controlled by the military is financing the armed forces, Amnesty International said in a report Thursday that called for foreign partners to sever ties.

The human rights group's report described military units and veteran associations as owning about one-third of Myanma Economic Holdings, with serving and retired military personnel owning the rest. Generals and units directly responsible for human rights violations, including the persecution of Rohingya Muslims, have received big dividend payments, the report said.

The company was founded by the military in 1990 and runs businesses in areas including mining, beer, tobacco, garment production and banking. In 2019, it was the second-highest taxpayer of all companies in the country, handing state coffers more than $14 million.

Myanma Economic Holdings' foreign business partners include South Korean steel company Posco, Japanese beer maker Kirin Holdings and Chinese metal-mining company Wanbao Mining.

Kirin, which has a joint venture with Myanma Economic Holdings to produce and sell beer, has raised concerns and said it took its responsibilities in Myanmar seriously. "We emphasize that it is wholly unacceptable to Kirin that any proceeds from our Myanmar joint ventures could be used for any military purposes," the company said in the statement.

Amnesty is calling on these companies to disengage from any businesses with Myanma Economic Holdings.

The report alleged that the total amount of dividends paid in the 20 years until 2011 to military units was 95 billion kyat, or $16 billion based on the official currency rate.

According to the report, a total of 95 military units under the Western Command -- which is responsible for operations in Rakhine state, where violence against Rohingya were committed and from where they were forced to flee -- were shareholders. Furthermore, military chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing was one noteworthy shareholder in the 2010-11 fiscal year. He received a dividend of 1.5 million kyat.

Not only were these military units accused of international law violations against Rohingya Muslims, but they were also involved in armed conflict with the Arakan Army. The U.S. and the U.K. have sanctioned generals including Min Aung Hlaing and related individuals for their roles in "atrocities and serious human rights violations" during the operations against Rohingya Muslims.

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017.

"The perpetrators of some of the worst human rights violations in Myanmar's recent history are among those who benefit" from Myanma Economic Holdings' business activities, Mark Dummett, Amnesty's head of business, security and human rights, said in a statement.

Justice for Myanmar, a human rights group, obtained Myanma Economic Holdings' confidential 2010-11 shareholder report and gave it to Amnesty.

Amnesty has urged the Myanmar government to prohibit the military from engaging in any form of economic activity. The rights group also called for the government to ban the military's direct or indirect ownership of business conglomerates such as Myanma Economic Holdings.

The military has not responded to the Nikkei Asian Review's request for comment.

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