The United States on Thursday slapped sanctions on Myanmar's state gem company, vowing to deprive the military junta of a key moneymaker as it violently suppresses democracy protests.
The Treasury Department said it would block all assets and ban any transactions with the Myanmar Gems Enterprise, which manages the mining and marketing of the country's jade and other gemstones.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was determined alongside allies to restore democracy and promote accountability in the country formerly known as Burma.
"By imposing targeted sanctions on this entity, we are sending a clear signal to the military that the United States will keep increasing pressure on the regime's revenue streams until it ceases its violence," Blinken said in a statement.
He said the United States would turn up the heat until the junta "releases all those unjustly detained, lifts martial law and the nationwide state of emergency, removes telecommunications restrictions and restores Burma to the path of democracy."
The announcement comes in the midst of a gem emporium called by the junta in the capital Naypyidaw, with the ousted ruling National League of Democracy warning businesses not to participate.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar reported Thursday that the emporium on its sixth day alone sold close to $2.5 million worth of jade.
Myanmar sold 825 million euros ($980 million) in gems and jade through emporiums in 2017-2018, according to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which promotes openness on natural resource exports.
But 60 to 80 percent of gemstones from Myanmar are not declared, the initiative said in a 2016 study. Myanmar suspended gem emporiums last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The United States has already imposed targeted sanctions on leaders of the military who seized power on February 1, arresting civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and launching a crackdown in which more than 500 people have died.
The latest action stops short of returning to a total US ban on the sale of Myanmar's prized jade and rubies as was in place when the military was last in power.
The so-called JADE Act, which Congress lifted in 2016, was popular in Washington but faced criticism that it hurt small-scale miners and traders who were already suffering under military rule.
The Treasury Department said in a statement the new sanctions "are not directed at the people of Burma."
Days after the coup, the United States imposed sanctions on three gem companies: Myanmar Ruby Enterprise, Myanmar Imperial Jade Co. and Cancri Co.
The Treasury Department said it had designated the three companies because the military controls them.