Sep 22, 2023

This is an update from the Myanmar Campaign Network – an Australian national coalition formed following the 2021 coup in Myanmar, comprising human rights organisations, international aid NGOs, Myanmar diaspora organisations, trade unions and faith-based organisations.

Sean Turnell at Union Aid Abroad’s dinner on September 12. Photo: Patrick Elliott-Brennan.


Sean Turnell engaged the audience at the Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA Sydney fundraising dinner, sprinkling in dashes of humour as he described his harrowing experience as a prisoner in Myanmar. After describing the harsh treatment he and his fellow prisoners faced, highlighting the brutality of the regime, Sean called for Australian sanctions on two key Myanmar state-owned banks.

Professor Turnell named junta leader, Min Aung Hlaing as Myanmar’s biggest sanctioner, with the coup and junta mismanagement creating severe economic turmoil. This has seen plummeting growth, a collapsing currency, and soaring inflation. Military expenditure has caused budget deficits which are impacting education and health.

Junta desperate and losing control

Myanmar’s already fragile banking system has been rocked by unchecked money printing and mounting trade deficits and debt. However, military expenditure has increased to a whopping $2.8 billion and the junta is desperate for foreign revenue to purchase arms from China, Russia, Singapore, India and Thailand, among others.

This desperation has even led the junta to demand overseas workers transmit 25% of their wages home via junta-approved bank accounts.

Why sanction the banks?

The country’s two state-owned banks, Myanma Foreign Trade Bank (MFTB) and Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank (MICB) supply the regime with foreign currency. They primarily function as foreign currency exchanges and handle transactions for Myanmar’s state-owned enterprises, whose accounts are under military control.

The United States and Canada have already slapped sanctions on both banks for their role in supporting the regime.

Professor Turnell also supports Myanmar Campaign Network’s call for sanctions on Kanbawza Bank (KBZ) a subsidiary of notorious Kanbawza Group (KBZ Group). KBZ is one of the largest crony companies in Myanmar and is known for financing atrocities against the Rohingya in 2017 and backing the 2021 coup.

MCN also has its sights set on United Amara Bank (UAB) too, a subsidiary of the private conglomerate International Group of Entrepreneurs (IGE) Company Limited. The European Union has already sanctioned IGE for its role in funding brutal ‘clearance operations’ in Rakhine State and providing indirect financial support to the current regime.

How much longer can Australia rely solely on ASEAN to address the Myanmar crisis?

ASEAN’s recent “Review and Decision” on the failed Five-Point Consensus has drawn criticism for its lack of clear actions and accountability measures. While they’ve maintained their decision to deny the junta non-political representation at key meetings, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) has paradoxically allowed Myanmar military representatives to assume leadership roles.

Even more concerning, Myanmar and Russia are co-chairing the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus Experts’ Working Group on Counter-Terrorism, collaborating on joint tabletop and field training exercises. While these events unfold, airstrikes in Myanmar have escalated. During the ASEAN Air Chiefs conference in Naipyidaw from September 13-15, attended by multiple ASEAN countries, 20 airstrikes occurred.

Additionally, the ADMM-Plus Maritime Security Conference and Future Leaders’ Programme took place from 12 – 14 September in Hawaii with junta representatives invited.

Sanctions are easy and it’s the right thing to do

Our inaction on Myanmar has been noticed internationally. Australia can take practical steps, following the path paved by the US, UK, EU, and others to restore democracy in Myanmar.

The Myanmar Campaign Network (MCN) is calling on the Australian Government to stand in solidarity with the people of Myanmar and the legitimate government, the National Unity Government (NUG), by answering their plea for targeted sanctions against the junta, key banks and state-owned enterprises.

Sean is asking the Australian Government to do the right thing. As he says, “We can, it’s easy, and, it’s just the right thing to do.”

Pre-order Sean Turnell’s book An Unlikely Prisoner. It will be released through Penguin on 14 November 2023. You can pre-order your copy here.

Take action today by signing these international petitions


  • Block the Myanmar junta’s access to funds, arms, equipment and jet fuel.

Sign here

Myanmar for U Kyaw Moe Tun & U Kyaw Moe Tun for Myanmar

  • Petition to allow the Permanent Representative of Myanmar, appointed by the legitimate government of Myanmar, H.E. U Kyaw Moe Tun to continue his representation of the people of Myanmar at the 78th United Nations General Assembly in September 2023.

Sign here



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