by Ian Timberlake, AFP, 20 Oct 2007

Three companies with strong links to Singapore are among seven firms blacklisted by the United States under fresh sanctions against Myanmar after its deadly suppression of pro-democracy protests.

According to President George W. Bush’s order the companies which are either based in or linked to Singapore are: Pavo Trading Pte Ltd, Air Bagan Holdings Pte Ltd and Htoo Wood Products Pte Ltd, which is also listed as being from Myanmar’s main city, Yangon.

The sanctions were announced Friday and are designed to target organisations with ties to Myanmar’s ruling junta in the hope it will pile more pressure on the regime.

“It’s about time the US did something like this,” said Dave Mathieson, a consultant on Myanmar to Human Rights Watch in Bangkok.

He said the sanctions “actually go after the money” of the junta, adding they also served as a “wake-up call” for Singapore .

Also named is Air Bagan Ltd of Myanmar, which last month made Singapore its second international destination. The airline’s chairman, Tay Za, arrived on the first flight.

Tay Za has “very, very strong links to the junta,” said Sean Turnell, an economics professor who specialises in Myanmar at Australia’s Macquarie University.

Tay Za is not among 11 individuals named by Bush as senior regime officials in Myanmar who are also subject to the fresh sanctions. {Note from Pseudonymity: See below}

The directory at a building in Singapore’s central business district lists Air Bagan Holdings and the two other blacklisted Singapore-linked firms as operating from a suite on the 24th floor.

But the suite carries no sign and workers in neighbouring offices said they knew nothing about what type of company operates from there, although they have seen people coming and going on weekdays.

An opaque blue sticker covered the door and obscured the interior. Phone and email messages to Pavo Trading were not immediately returned.

“We can’t really comment right now,” said Zaw Nay Oo, Air Bagan’s corporate affairs manager, who works from the airline’s sales office in a city shopping plaza.

Government spokespersons in Singapore also could not be immediately reached for comment.

The website for Pavo Trading says it is a sister company of Htoo Group of Companies and was established in 1999.

“The company’s main interest lies in export of timber and timber products from Myanmar,” says the website.

It says the group’s flagship company, Htoo Trading Co Ltd, is a logging firm established 17 years ago.

“Htoo Trading is run by Tay Za,” said Debbie Stothard of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma , a human rights group.

Bush’s executive order cuts off the designated officials and organisations – and those acting on their behalf – from the US financial system, the US Treasury Department said.

It means that “any assets these individuals and entities may have that are within US jurisdiction must be frozen, and US persons are prohibited from transacting or doing business with them,” the department said.

Singapore is chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and has led regional criticism of the junta’s crackdown last month, which killed at least 13 people. More than 3,000 were detained.

Observers say Singapore’s tough words against the junta must be matched by economic action given the city-state’s extensive links with the regime .

Human rights activists and other experts allege – without providing direct evidence – that junta funds have flowed into, or at least through Singapore, a regional financial centre .

Singapore strongly denies allegations that it allows banks based here to keep illicit funds on behalf of Myanmar’s secretive generals.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told CNN television recently that the country does not take “dirty money” and does not condone money laundering.

The city-state was among the regional countries Bush praised Friday for their response to Myanmar’s upheaval.

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Among the latest sanctions is a new Executive Order…….

The President has issued a new Executive Order that expands the Treasury Department’s existing authority and designates an additional 12 individuals and entities for sanctions. This Order expands the Treasury Department’s existing authority to designate individuals for sanctions to include: Individuals responsible for human rights abuses and public corruption; and individuals and entities who provide material or financial support to designated individuals or to the government of Burma.

In the Annex to the Executive Order, Tay Za and the 3 companies are listed among the 12 individuals & entities.