Activists in New Delhi have called on the government to end its supplies of weaponry to the Burmese government, which they claim are fuelling wars in the country’s northern and eastern border regions.
Around 100 Burmese gathered on Jantar Mantar Road in the capital on Friday last week. Kim, head of the Burma Centre Delhi, said that India was contributing to the bloodshed in Burma.
“The Indian government’s provision of arms to the Burmese military junta is encouraging the armed conflicts in Kachin and Shan state,” he said, referring to the fighting against armed ethnic groups which has been raging for more than two months.
India is one of a number of countries, including China, Israel, Russia, Serbia and Singapore, which continues to supply arms to Burma despite calls from world leaders, including former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the East Timor leader Dr Jose Ramos-Horta, for a ban on weapons’ exports to the maligned Burmese army.
Zin Naing, foreign affairs coordinator of All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), which currently has troops involved in the fighting in Karen state, said that the weapons exports from India were only being used by the army against its own people.
“Looking at our neighbouring countries – China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh or India – there is no sign whatsoever indicating that Burma will go to war with any of them, so why does [Burma] need more arms?” He added that the government was using these procurements to “bully and oppress Burmese”.
Despite the absence of any external enemy, military expansion remains a priority of the central government, which announced earlier this year that a revised budget will allocate nearly a quarter of total annual spending to the army. In contrast, less than three percent will go to healthcare and education combined.
The latest tangible sign of this came last week when an order was sent out by the War Office in the capital, Naypyidaw, directing regional military commanders to recruit four people each month for each of the 530 battalions, a move that will see the army swell by more than 25,000 troops every year.
Burma also remains the only government in the world that continues to use landmines.
India’s arms sales to Burma have attracted widespread criticism, not least because until the mid-1990s it was an outspoken supporter of the country’s pro-democracy movement. That position began to change however as Delhi sought to build closer ties with the Burmese regime as a prerequisite to boosting trade and access to the country’s wealth of natural resources.
India’s hosting of former Burmese junta chief Than Shwe in July last year was seen by activists to be the final nail in the coffin for relations between the world’s largest democracy and the Burmese opposition, whose leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a recipient of the Jawaharlal Nehru Award in 1992, has often cited independence hero Gandhi as a key influence.