How India is supporting Myanmar’s military with arms

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Deutsche Welle

Since the military junta seized power in Myanmar in February 2021, companies within India including state-owned entities have shipped at least $51 million in arms, raw materials and associated supplies to Myanmar’s military and arms dealers.

A UN report released last week revealed that a total of 22 unique suppliers based in India shipped arms to the junta during the military’s violent clampdown on dissent and protests.

Among the suppliers were state-owned entities, including Bharat Dynamics, Bharat Electronics and Yantra India, and private companies Sandeep Metalcraft and Larsen & Toubro.

The report said India’s continued supply of materials to Myanmar, which have been used for surveillance as well as to boost artillery and missile stocks, could be considered a violation of customary international law and international humanitarian law.

“India should therefore be aware that the arms it provides to the Myanmar military though relatively limited are likely to be used in the commission of international crime,” the report stated.

Myanmar has been gripped by a civil war since the junta led by General Min Aung Hlaing toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021 in a coup.

Russia, China and Singapore main suppliers

Besides India, Russia, China, Singapore and Thailand also provided military support worth a total of about $1 billion to the Myanmar military, including arms dealers who have figured out how to play the system, the report noted.

Russia, China and Singapore continue to be the main suppliers of advanced weapons systems to the Myanmar military, accounting for over $400 million, $260 million and $250 million, respectively, since the coup, with of the trade originating from state-owned entities.

“That’s because sanctions are not being adequately enforced and because arms dealers linked to the junta have been able to create shell companies to avoid them,” said Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

In its detailed report, the UN accuses the arms manufacturer Yantra India Limited of sending 122 mm barrels for weapons to Myanmar in October. The barrels, valued at $330,000, were shipped to Yangon-based Innovative Industrial Technologies Company Limited, which is owned by the Myanmar military’s arms broker.

India’s ambiguous engagement with Myanmar

Pro-democracy leaders and activists in Myanmar have been taken aback by India’s assisting and supporting the junta through military supplies.

“India, as the biggest democracy in the area, continues its counterproductive policy of engagement with military junta, which is not a reliable partner for India and not serving Indian interests even in the short run,” Zaw Tuseng, president of the Myanmar Policy Institute, told DW.

The expert also warns that ties between New Delhi and the junta won’t help curb China’s influence in the country.

“If India goes on like that, there is more to lose than gain,” Zaw Tuseng said.

Moe Zaw Oo, a deputy foreign minister of the National Unity Government (NUG) of Myanmar, said he was shocked to learn that India supplied arms to Myanmar’s military. The NUG is the government-in-exile formed by elected representatives and members of ethnic minority groups.

“The people of Myanmar will remember that and it will have impact on the long-term relations of the two countries. India’s government should seriously take into consideration our people’s desire and will rather than short-sighted business interests,” Moe Zaw Oo told DW.

According to Sui Khar, a leader of the Chin National Front (CNF), India sees China’s influence in Myanmar as a threat. “It is therefore trying to forge good relations with the military junta which is misplaced. It will not work. Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s ruling military junta) is not the only stakeholder in the country, and the sooner New Delhi realizes this, it will be good,” Sui Khar told DW.

The CNF is also affiliated with the NUG.

Thousands of fighters from Chin state and the Sagaing region have joined an armed struggle and put-up fierce resistance to the Myanmar army over the past two years.

“The people’s rights are being crushed. New Delhi should consider the moral and ethical implications of such arms transfers and sales,” Salai Isaac Khen, the former minister of Chin state, told DW.

India denies being major source of Myanmar arms

Indian representatives told UN rapporteur Andrews that the arms supplied to Myanmar were part of commitments made to the civilian government before the coup, and were exported in light of New Delhi’s own domestic security concerns.

“India has never been, nor is, a major source of arms to Myanmar, and India has been fulfilling our past obligations. Our exports are very clearly scrutinized. We consider what is in the interest of the people of Myanmar,” the representatives said, according to the report.

There are an estimated 1,704,000 total internally displaced persons in Myanmar as of 6 March, according to UN figures.

At least 2,940 civilians have been killed by Myanmar authorities, according to the Independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog group that tracks killings and arrests. Another 17,572 have been arrested since February 2021, with 13,763 of them still behind bars.

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