The Burmese army carried out testing of air-to-ground missiles in territory belonging to the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) at the end of last month, according to the rebel militia.
The manoeuvres took place in the Bawali region of Pegu’s Taungoo District. A KNLA officer told DVB that the army confirmed they were carrying out testing of aircrafts bought from Russia.
Commander of the KNLA’s 2nd Brigade Col. Deh Poe made contact with the government force’s Southeast Regional Military Command after the missile strikes caused panic among locals, the officer said.
“Our commander inquired with the regional military command and told them the bombings had caused panic among the local populace, and it would be good if they could inform us in advance of such operations in the future,” said the officer.
“The army said that their training would only last for seven days, and that it has to be conducted away from the town to protect civilian buildings. We told them there are also residential buildings in Bawgali, and they stopped firing rounds the following day.
“We assumed that they were firing missiles by the way they came in, which was unlike the dropping of bombs,” he added.
The type of aircraft involved was not identified, though Russia has been reportedly selling MiG-29s to the Burmese air force through its subsidiary Mikoyan for a number of years.
The incident took place as the KNLA’s political wing, the Karen National Union (KNU), sits for talks at a summit with other major ethnic armed groups in the United Wa State Army’s Panghsang headquarters in northern Shan State to discuss the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.
The KNU’s Joint Secretary Thaw The Bwe said the Burmese military’s conduct – given the current political situation – was uncalled for.
“The KNU has been working confidently together with the Burmese government in the peace process, looking to sign a ceasefire agreement. Such action from the armed forces is uncalled for and could damage trust,” he said.
As of Tuesday, the government has yet to provide any official explanation of the incident.
Russia – along with China, Ukraine, Israel, Serbia and Singapore –has long been a key supplier of military hardware to Burma, bypassing Western sanctions in a relationship that has been criticised by human rights campaigners.
Last month, the head of Russia’s state atomic energy agency, Rosatum, announced that preparatory talks were being held with Burma over the introduction of nuclear technologies to the Southeast Asian country.
Russia appears to have focussed keenly on its Southeast Asian ally in recent months. An agreement to increase bilateral trade by almost US$400 million was signed between Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev and his Burmese counterpart in Naypyidaw on 29 August.
The increase in trade, which the minister predicts will rise from US$114 million to $500 million a year by 2017, is expected to boost development across sectors such as energy, industrial development, information technology and aviation, among others.