Italian Ammunition Used in Myanmar Police Assault on Ambulance Raises Questions

By Dr. Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan 9 March 2021

On March 3, in North Okkalapa, Yangon, a CCTV camera caught the Myanmar police forcing the staff from a civil ambulance, after which they fired a shotgun through the windshield of the ambulance and severely beat the ambulance staff. An alert citizen journalist found the spent shotgun shell ejected from the police rifle after the event and held it up to a camera.

The shotgun shells were made by the Italian firm Cheddite Italy S.r.l.  Cheddite provided a very swift response from a query sent the next day to the company, along with photographs of their product at the attack site. Their reply stated that while they do ship their shotgun shells to many places in the world, they have never exported to Myanmar. They added that their exports are governed by EU regulations. The EU has had an embargo on arms, munitions and military equipment in some form since the 1990s. In 2000, this was expanded to include any equipment that might be used for internal repression or terrorism.

An immediate halt in all arms transfers to Myanmar was unambiguously called for in statements at the United Nations General Assembly informal meeting on Myamar on Feb. 26.

One of the main tools in tracking the arms trade is the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA). UNROCA is constrained by being dependent on voluntary participation by governments. Myanmar has never submitted a report on the weapons it has received from other countries. Countries who have provided reports of transfers of arms to Myanmar since 2000 are China, Russia, Serbia and the Ukraine. Although India does provide reports to the UN, it has somehow forgotten to mention the coastal surveillance aircraft it provided to Myanmar, and a kilo class submarine transferred less than a year ago. ROCA also did not have a record of a North Korean transfer of a multiple launch rocket system to Myanmar some years ago.

However, major weapons are not being used against popular protests; it is small arms and riot control munitions. So how then did Italian shotgun shells end up in the hands of the police used only a few days ago in an attack on a civilian ambulance? The difficulty answering this question reveals one of the great problems in controlling the sales of arms in today’s world. Tracing military and police weapons and ammunition involves penetrating the private contracts of commercial companies or the sometimes opaque state to state transfers by which arms are purchased, sold, gifted, brokered and bartered around the world. Once the item is out of the hands of the manufacturer, it can, and with some frequently does, end up anywhere.

In tracking this further through United Nations International Trade Statistics Database (UN Comtrade) it can be discovered that in 2019 a transfer to Myanmar, of items with the commodity identifier for shotgun shells, was sent from Thailand. However Comtrade displays no record of Thailand importing shotgun shells from Italy in the past 10 years. It does show that Thailand imported shotgun shells from other places, and it is possible that the ammunition passed through more than one country on the way to Myanmar. Comtrade does record a transfer from Italy to Singapore and between Singapore and Thailand with the same identifier code. However, it is impossible from available information in Comtrade to definitively state if these transfers enabled the attack on the ambulance and to terrorize its crew on March 3.

The Italian government has unambiguously denounced the coup in Myanmar, called at the UN General Assembly for the immediate release of all detained since the coup, a halt to violence against civilian demonstrations and the reinstatement of civilian control. Italy’s Ambassador in Yangon co-signed a letter to the military with 13 other ambassadors urging a halt in “violence against demonstrators and civilians, who are protesting the overthrow of their legitimate government” as well as condemning detentions and communications blackouts. Nonetheless, Italy now finds itself in a position where Italian made weapons were used to attack a civilian ambulance, and the manufacturer stated in its reply that it does not have the capacity to trace shotgun ammunition it sold. This dramatically illustrates the inability of the international community to control the spread of arms and the human rights abuses they enable.

Evidence of the arms used by the Tatmadaw and the Myanmar police needs to continue to be documented by citizen journalists and will be used in claims for justice in the future.

Source: Many postings of the March 3 attack online, this one from RFA. 

Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan is a researcher of the arms trade and military corruption.

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