Myanmar Junta Imports $1 Billion in Weapons Since Coup: Report

By The Irrawaddy 18 May 2023

The Myanmar military junta has imported at least US$1 billion worth of weapons and related materials from Russia, China and other countries in less than two years, according to a new UN report.

“Despite overwhelming evidence of the Myanmar military’s atrocity crimes against the people of Myanmar, the generals continue to have access to advanced weapons systems, spare parts for fighter jets, raw materials and manufacturing equipment for domestic weapons production,” Tom Andrews, the UN independent investigator on human rights in Myanmar, said in a press release.

Launched on Wednesday, the report, “The Billion Dollar Death Trade: The International Arms Networks that Enable Human Rights Violations in Myanmar”, documented over 12,500 purchases that were shipped directly to the Myanmar military or known Myanmar arms dealers working for the military from Feb. 1, 2021 to December 2022.

The Billion Dollar Death Trade: The International Arms Networks That Enable Human Rights Violations in Myanmar

The report identified $406 million worth of arms-related trade from entities in Russia including state-owned entities, $267 million from China including state-owned entities, $254 million from entities operating in Singapore, $51 million from entities in India including state-owned entities and $28 million from entities operating in Thailand.

Andrews said at a press conference that the diversity and volume of goods provided to the Myanmar military since the coup is staggering.

He identified transfers of fighter jets, attack helicopters, reconnaissance and attack drones, advanced missile systems, tank upgrades, radio and communication equipment, radar complexes, and components for naval ships in the report.

The deadly items were used by the junta to commit atrocities against the people of Myanmar, the UN Special Rapporteur said.

He gave examples of the junta’s air attack on Pazi Gyi Village in Sagaing Region, a resistance stronghold, in which the junta used a Russian Yak-130 fighter jet followed by an attack by Russian Mi-35 helicopters. At least 160 people including 40 children were killed in the attack.

The corpses of civilians killed when a junta fighter jet bombed Pazi Gyi Village in Kantbalu Township, Sagaing Region on April 11.

And the junta’s Directorate of Defense Industries domestically manufactured bombs and machine guns, relying in part on raw materials supplied by private entities from Singapore, China and Thailand, the report stated.

Since the coup, 28 Russian entities, including state-owned entities, have transferred fighter jets, advanced missile systems, reconnaissance and attack drones, and spare parts for fighter jets, attack helicopters, and other systems, it said.

Additionally, 41 private and state-owned companies registered in China and Hong

Kong continued to supply the Myanmar military with an extensive array of arms, equipment, and raw materials between October 2021 and December 2022 including advanced trainer jets/light attack aircraft, upgrades to tanks, and overhaul and

repair work for the older Chinese fighter jets that make up the Myanmar Air Force fleet.

Chinese firms also provided essential raw materials directly to the Myanmar military for domestic weapons manufacturing, including aluminum, copper, steel, rubber, and lubricants, it said.

The report also stated that Singapore has become a major source for spare parts, raw materials, and manufacturing equipment especially for the continued operation of Myanmar’s KaPaSa weapons factories.

At least 138 Singapore-based firms have served as intermediaries for the Myanmar military since the coup.

Andrews requested the government of Singapore use the information in the report and enforce its own policies to the maximum extent possible.

The government of Singapore has stated that its policy is to, “prohibit the transfer of arms to Myanmar” and that it has decided “not to authorize the transfer of dual-use items which have been assessed to have potential military application to Myanmar.”

Unlike Russia, China, and—to a much lesser extent—India, Andrews said he has received no information indicating that the governments of Singapore or Thailand have approved or transferred arms to the Myanmar military.

Rather, arms dealing organizations appear to be using the jurisdictions of Thailand and Singapore, and specifically the banking and shipping sectors there, to facilitate arms transfers, he said.

The report suggest arm dealers may be seeking to use Thailand as an alternative route. It said 12 Thai companies exporting arms and related materials to the Myanmar military were established following the coup, and many were established by sanctioned arms networks already operating in Singapore.

Andrews said that the Myanmar military and its arms dealers have figured out how to game the system because sanctions are not being adequately enforced.

“Those providing these weapons are able to avoid sanctions by using front companies and creating new ones while counting on lax enforcement.”

The UN Special Rapporteur urged a complete ban on the sale and transfer of weapons to the military, and urged governments to enforce existing bans while coordinating sanctions on arms dealers and foreign currency sources.

“The good news is that we now know who is supplying these arms and the jurisdictions in which they operate. Member states now need to step up and stop the flow of these arms,” the expert said.