By Robin Emmott and Antoni Slodkowski
LUXEMBOURG/YANGON (Reuters) - The European Union imposed sanctions on seven senior military officials from Myanmar on Monday, including the general in charge of an operation accused of driving more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.
Within hours of the EU announcement, the Myanmar military announced that one of the sanctioned generals had been fired on Monday and another had left the army last month after being removed from his post.
The seven face asset freezes and are banned from travelling to the EU, after the bloc extended an arms embargo and prohibited any training of, or cooperation with, Myanmar's armed forces.
The sanctions, first reported by Reuters in April, also mark a shift in diplomacy by the EU, which suspended its restrictive measures on Myanmar in 2012 to support its partial shift to democratic governance in recent years.
The crackdown on the Rohingya in northwestern Rakhine State, which the United Nations denounced as "ethnic cleansing" by the military, has soured relations.
Myanmar rejects almost all accusations of wrongdoing and says it launched a legitimate counter-insurgency operation after coming under attack by Rohingya militants last August.
One of the officers sanctioned by the EU, Major General Maung Maung Soe, had already been sanctioned by the United States last December. He was transferred late last year from his post as the head of Western Command in Rakhine, where Myanmar's military launched its ferocious counter-offensive.
"He is responsible for the atrocities and serious human rights violations committed against (the) Rohingya population in Rakhine State by the Western Command during that period," the EU said in a statement.
Hours later, the Myanmar army said in a statement that Muang Maung Soe had been fired on Monday from the military for underperformance when responding to Rohingya militant attacks.
It also said that another sanctioned commander -- Deputy Major General Aung Kyaw Zaw, whose Bureau of Special Operations No. 3 oversaw the Western Command -- was "given permission to resign" in May. He had also been earlier moved from his original post. The army said it found "some flaws" in his performance.
It did not refer to the EU sanctions in its statement.
Thant Zin Oo, the commander of the Eighth Security Police Battalion, was also sanctioned. The EU accused him of "serious human rights violations (that) include unlawful killings and systematic burning of Rohingya houses and buildings." Four other senior military staff were named, all generals.
Canada also sanctioned senior military officials in February, when Reuters reported on events in the village of Inn Din where 10 Rohingya men were killed by Rakhine Buddhists and security force members. Reuters named and detailed Thant Zin Oo's role in Rakhine in that story for the first time.
Two Reuters journalists were jailed while reporting the story and remain in prison in Yangon, where they face up to 14 years behind bars for violating Myanmar's Official Secrets Act.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by John Stonestreet, David Stamp and Peter Graff)
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Updated Date: Jun 26, 2018 00:06 AM