US tells S'pore to cut bank ties with Myanmar

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BANGKOK, Nov 5 (Reuters) The United States told Singapore and its banks on Monday to sever financial links with Myanmar's junta, widely believed to use the city-state as its main off-shore banking centre.

''We believe that there are regime officials with accounts in Singapore,'' senior State Department official Kristen Silverberg told reporters in Thailand during a regional tour to drum up support for a tougher Asian stance against the former Burma.

''We hope that they ensure that their financial institutions are not being used as sanctuary for Burmese officials,'' said Silverberg, who is responsible for U.S. liaison with groups such as the Association of South East Asian nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN is one of the few international organisations to admit Myanmar but its current chairman -- Singapore -- expressed ''revulsion'' at September's crackdown on monk-led democracy protests in which at least 10 people were killed.

Washington wants Singapore to go one step further and take action in the form of, say, financial sanctions or travel restrictions on members of the regime and their cronies, as the United States and Australia did last month.

Silverberg did not say whether ''third party'' sanctions, targeting non-U.S. businesses that do business with Myanmar, were among further measures being considered in Washington if the generals fail to embark on an acceptable path to democracy.

''Obviously, we've asked financial institutions and governments worldwide to consider whether their relationships with Burma are helping to facilitate this regime,'' she said.

''We're glad that both governments and private institutions are taking that request seriously.'' Singapore officials have publicly opposed sanctions, but in the last few weeks, its banks appear to have been quietly distancing themselves from Myanmar, analysts and bankers say.

The most concrete example is Air Bagan, a small airline owned by Htoo Trading, a conglomerate which recently appeared on a U.S. blacklist on account of its links to the junta, which is suspending flights to Singapore.

The city state's Today newspaper said the final straw for the airline, which was struggling with declining passenger numbers after the crackdown, was Singapore banks deciding to ''stop dealing with'' it.

Despite Washington's assertion that Myanmar's generals park their cash in banks in Singapore -- also their favoured destination for shopping and medical treatment -- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong insists the financial system is clean.

''We don't play dirty money. We don't condone money-laundering,'' he told CNN.

The Burma Campaign UK, a London-based activist group, list 10 Singapore firms on its ''Dirty List'' of those with links to Myanmar, including banks DBS Group Holdings, Oversea-Chinese Bangking Corp and United Overseas Bank, and conglomerate Keppel Corp..


Reuters>

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