Junta deserves a universal arms embargo

Naing Ko Ko

Feb 20, 2008 (DVB), As the Burmese military continues to use foreign-made weapons against its own people, it is time for the international community to adopt a comprehensive ban on military trade with the regime.

Thanks to information technology, to DVB, CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera, and especially to some brave people in Burma, the Burmese people and the international community were able to witness many aspects of the Saffron Revolution in September 2007.

Thousands of Burmese soldiers poured onto the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay in trucks made in China to shoot into crowds of peaceful monks, nuns and civilians.

Respected and peaceful monks became corpses, killed by ammunition produced in China. The Rangoon sky was coloured black and gray by tear-gas grenades that also came from China.

Burmese soldiers have used not only Chinese-made military equipment such as helmets, uniforms, boots and bayonets, but also munitions, tanks, small arms, artillery, surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, jet fighters, naval vessels, and even a nuclear reactor from its allies China and Russia.

No one knows exactly how many Chinese-made strategic, conventional and non-conventional munitions have been deployed in Burma, as the military junta never releases authentic statistics on defence sector expenditure.

However, international strategy and security watchers, such as Jane’s Intelligence Review, the CIA, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, observe that the junta’s army has been using Chinese-made ammunitions to upgrade its modern Tatmadaw [armed forces].

Weapons of oppression

Most of the military junta’s press conferences claim that the Tatmadaw now has links with 17 ethnic insurgent ceasefire groups.

But on the ground, thousands of ethic people in the border areas, mainly unarmed civilians, have been slaughtered by Chinese-made munitions. Landmines have injured or killed thousands of people each year.

Landmine Monitors of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines estimate a landmine casualty rate of 1,500 people per year in Burma.

However, China has not stopped selling arms to the Burmese army for its war against innocent civilians. China and Russia have been Burma's guardians, protecting the regime in the sphere of international relations and diplomacy.

Although the forced conscription of children into its army is prohibited by law, the issue of child soldiers in Burma has reached the table of United Nations Security Council. Burmese Army personnel have been violating international standards prohibiting the recruitment and use of child soldiers since 1988.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch has documented how children as young as 10 are recruited by force into Burma’s army. At recruitment centres, officers falsify documents to register new recruits as being aged 18, even if they are clearly underage.

HRW considers that 70,000 or more of the Burmese Army’s estimated 350,000 soldiers may be children.

Military trade continues

According to the Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the key arms exporters to Burma in 2005-2006 were China, India and Serbia and Montenegro.

China was the biggest arms exporter with a value with 2.5 billion US dollars. The US government’s CIA World Fact Book stated in the same year of 2005 that the Burmese junta spent 2.10 percent of gross domestic product on military expenditure.

The military junta has not ratified the Mine Ban Treaty, and according to Jane’s Intelligence Review (Vol. 12, No. 10, October 2000) has imported antipersonnel landmines from China including Chinese Types-58, -59, -69 and -72A; Russian-made POMZ-2, POMZ-2M, PMN and PMD-6; US-made M-14, M-16A1 and M-18, and Indian/British LTM-73, LTM-76.

Despite the regime signing the Chemical Weapons Convention on 13 January 1993, to date it has not yet ratified the agreement. Some military strategists believe the regime is trying to obtain such WMD and nuclear reactors from China and Russia, while some others have said firmly that Russia has already provided such a reactor to military generals.

The Burmese army has denied using of weapons of mass destruction, but there is a no independent monitoring system in Burma.

While there are no crucial and strategic security threats from either internal or external enemies or actors, the Burmese army has doubled in size since 1988 and continues to expand, with active forces estimated at 428,250, ranking it 12th in the world, and a total force of 500,250, ranking it 26th in the world.

"Failed state"

As the army has expanded, almost every other institution and most of civil society has been totally destroyed.

Recently, on 23 January 2008, UNICEF claimed that hundreds of children under the age of 5 die from preventable diseases each day in Burma, the second-worst mortality rate for children in Asia after Afghanistan. Dr Osamu Kunii, UNICEF's nutrition expert in Burma, said that there were between 100,000 to 150,000 child deaths per year in the country; equal to between 270 and 400 daily.

Almost every policy is formulated by unskilled military generals who run the state economy as their own private business. The result is that almost every policy of the military junta has failed through lack of professionalism, human resources and follow-through.

Sadly, this resource-rich and beautiful South East Asian country, in the hands of the generals, has turned into a failed state. There is an exodus of millions of Burmese to neighbouring countries to hunt for any job, no matter how dirty or unskilled, while others have migrated to the first world countries to avoid suffering the oppression and tyranny of their army.

In order to stop this modern tragedy, the international community needs to adopt multilateral and bilateral binding resolutions and arms embargos instead of turning to "megaphone diplomacy" and issuing condemnatory statements which fall on the deaf ears of the military generals.

As long as the army generals can sustain their power using arms and munitions from more developed countries, they will never sit down for real dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and their own people.

Before footage of another mass killing appears on the TV screens, it is time to adopt a universal arms embargo against the Burmese military generals.

Naing Ko Ko is a postgraduate scholarship student in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He is a former political prisoner.

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