New UN report explores who is funding and arming Myanmar’s military

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A protest in solidarity with the Rohingya community in 2018. In the middle of a crowd someone is holding a sign saying "United Nations Act Now"
A solidarity protest in Canada in 2018. Photo: Mike Gifford/Flickr, CC2.0

A UN report released in early August said that arms companies from seven countries, including North Korea, Russia, China, Israel and India have supplied weapons to the military in Myanmar, and that dozens of companies in Myanmar donated over $10 million in response to a call for funds to support the genocide against the Rohingya community in 2016 and 2017, when the army expelled around 700,000 Rohingya from Myanmar. The report also calls for sanctions and an arms embargo of the Myanmar military, which is also known as the Tatmadaw.

The donations raised from companies in Myanmar included those raised at a ceremony in September 2017, a week after soldiers began storming villagers. Al Jazeera reported that Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing attended the event and raised over $1.4m.

The weapons from North Korea included rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles were sold by the state-owned company Korea Mining Development Trading Corp., which is subject to UN security council sanctions.

The Russian state-owned company Irkutsk Corporation sold 12 Yakovlev Yak-130 training/light fighter aircraft in 2016, and the company Russian Helicopters Holding carried out repairs on four Mi24P attack and transport helicopters for the Myanmar Air Force. The UN’s report claims that “the Mission received credible reports that the Tatmadaw used Mil Mi-35 helicopter gunships” in an attack in January 2018 in which civilians were killed and property destroyed.

In May 2017 the Chinese state-owned company China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation supplied SY-400 short range surface-to-surface missile systems, and in November 2018 the Myanmar Air Force received one of six JF-17M “Thunder” combat aircraft, as part of a $560m 2015 contract with the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China.

Ukrainian us also involved in supplying arms to Myanmar. In 2019 it was reported that two state-owned companies, Ukrspetsexport and Ukroboronprom, had begun an arms manufacturing deal that would see a new plant built in Myanmar to manufacture armoured personnel carries and self-propelled howitzers like the 2S1U howitzer cannon. Some equipment has already been shipped and the plant is scheduled to begin production by 2020.

Israel Aerospace Industries, an Israeli state-owned company delivered two attack frigates in April 2017, which triggered a petition to the Israeli supreme court which sought to prohbit defence cooperation on the basis of attacks against Rohingya communities in northern Rakhine in October 2016 – the court revoked Israeli export licenses.

As well as weapons, the Tatmadaw has also attempted to buy information and communications technology, including unmanned aerial vehicles, military air-traffic control systems, internet and cloud-based platforms and connectivity services, and precision navigation systems from countries including Austria, Canada, Japan, Norway, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

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