Despite brutality, Myanmar regime retains access to a powerful arsenal

Last February, the United Nations official responsible for tracking human rights in Myanmar called for a global arms embargo against the ruling military junta, which was by then a year into a brutal crackdown on dissenters since its 2021 coup ousted the civilian government.


In a 40-page report, Tom Andrews told the U.N. Human Rights Council that countries in the international body continued to sell arms to the junta, despite rising civilian casualties.


“The choice between action and inaction is literally a matter of life and death,” he warned.


This month offered fresh evidence that Andrews’ call for action has gone unheeded, or at least has not been adopted widely enough to keep the military from accessing new weaponry. Junta leaders on Dec. 15 proudly unveiled new fighter jets and attack helicopters purchased from Russia, China and Pakistan at a 75th anniversary celebration of the country’s air force.


Among the new aircraft are sophisticated Su-30 fighters from Russia and FTC G multi-purpose lightweight jets from China, many of which had been purchased after the coup.


The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights group based in Thailand, said in a Dec. 23 report that 267 children have been killed in Myanmar due to junta attacks. And yet there is no global consensus about implementing an arms embargo against the military.


Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch, said his group has pressed for an arms embargo since the coup.


“But this demand has fallen into the same political abyss at the U.N. Security Council that doomed collective action on other crises, like Syria,” he told RFA in an interview.


“Put simply, with Russia and China prepared to use their veto at the U.N. Security Council in a way that totally disregards the human rights, security and welfare of the Burmese people, there is no way to get a global arms embargo imposed on Myanmar,” Robertson said.

Weapons sales continue


According to the U.N., more than 40 member states, mostly Western nations, have imposed arms embargoes against Myanmar. But getting wider buy-in is unlikely, given the competing interests of countries, says Hla Kyaw Zaw, a Myanmar political and military analyst.


“Even if China and Russia wouldn’t sell arms to the Myanmar military, some western countries would,” he said, adding “the world’s countries would never have the same opinion on any issues.”


Andrew’s report noted that countries such as India, Belarus, Ukraine, Israel, Serbia, Pakistan and South Korea have reportedly sold weapons to the Myanmar military after the coup, in addition to Russia and China.


RFA reached out to Andrews for comment but did not receive a response.


Chinese envoy arrives


The junta’s ties to China were again on display this week when Deng Xijun, the new Chinese special envoy for Myanmar, arrived at Naypyidaw yesterday.


Sources told RFA that the Chinese envoy is likely to meet the delegates of five ethnic armed organizations that have ceasefire agreements with the military in the Myanmar capital for peace talks from Dec. 27-29.


An analyst who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation said the representatives were likely discussing an election the military plans to hold next year to legitimize its rule.


No ‘concrete reasons’


Thein Tun Oo, the executive director of Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, which was formed by former military officers, said Myanmar’s military should not face any arms embargoes.


“Why would anybody put arms sanctions against us, for what reasons?” he said. “They will have to find the answers on why they want to impose arms sanction without concrete reasons.”


The Myanmar military could produce modern weapons on its own should an embargo block imports of weapons, Thein Tun Oo said.


Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the junta’s spokesman, has told RFA that the military is working to become more self-reliant on arms production and is concentrating on economic and social issues in its relationships with other countries.


Weapons embargo unlikely


Than Soe Naing, a political analyst, agreed that a weapons embargo is unlikely. A more effective strategy against the junta may be in arming the National Unity Government, made up of parliamentarians ousted in the coup.


But other analysts have said arming the insurgents could raise tensions with China and neighboring countries concerned about a further spread of hostilities.


The United States and other countries have imposed a series of sanctions on Myanmar, its leaders and their allies.


On Dec. 9, for instance, Canada announced it had sanctioned suppliers of jet fuel and military arms brokers for the Myanmar military. Among them are Asia Sun Group, which mainly buys jet fuel for the Military Council, and Dynasty International Company and International Gateways Group, which are the main arms brokers for the Myanmar military.


In June 2021, the British government sanctioned three Russian companies and three Myanmar companies that were exporting military equipment to the Myanmar military.


Burmese arms brokerage companies such as Synpex Shwe, Myanmar New Era Trading and Sky Aviator were sanctioned by the British government. Britain has also imposed economic sanctions on Russia’s Ural Avia, Sins Avia Trading House and JSC Gorizont companies, which have business ties to these companises.


The United States has also sanctioned Sky Aviator and other people and businesses associated with providing Myanmar’s military arms.


‘Outrageous and unacceptable’


But deaths continue to increase in the country. According to the data collected by the RFA, 81 civilians were killed and 144 were injured by the junta’s air strikes and use of artillery and landmines in August and September alone


Another 105 civilians were killed and 263 were injured in October and November.


“What is needed is a global campaign to name and shame Russia and China for continuing to sell weapons to the SAC junta which are being used every day to commit atrocities against civilians, including crimes against humanity,” says Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.


“It is absolutely outrageous and unacceptable that Moscow and Beijing are continuing to give unqualified political support and arms to a Myanmar military regime that has clearly shown it is prepared to use unlimited violence against the Burmese people in order to hold on to power.”


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