Global firms help Myanmar's military make weapons, says report

January 16, 2023 3:58 pm

The weapons used in the infamous Inn Dinn massacre were made in Myanmar, the report says. [Source: BBC]

Myanmar’s military is producing a vast range of weapons to use against its own people thanks to supplies from companies in at least 13 countries, former top UN officials say.

The US, France, India and Japan are among those named, despite Western-led sanctions intended to isolate Myanmar.

The report says the home-produced arms are used to carry out atrocities against those who oppose the military.

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Myanmar has been engulfed in violence since a February 2021 military coup.

Opponents of the coup, which ousted the elected government, have joined ethnic rebel groups in resisting military rule.

The Special Advisory Council on Myanmar’s report notes that several UN member states continue to sell weapons to the military.

“An equally important factor, however, is the fact that Myanmar’s armed forces can produce, in-country, a variety of weapons that are being used to target civilians,” it says.

The firms named supply Myanmar’s military with raw materials, training and machines, the report says, and the weapons produced as a result are not used to defend its borders.

“Myanmar has never been attacked by a foreign country,” explains Yanghee Lee, the UN’s former Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, and one of the report’s authors.

“And Myanmar does not export any arms. Since 1950, it’s made its own arms to use against its own people.”

Officially, more than 2,600 people have been killed by the military since the most recent coup. However, the real death toll is thought to be 10 times higher.

“When it started… it seemed that the military could overpower those fledgling opposition movements, but the tide has turned a little bit in recent months and weeks,” explains Soe Win Tan, head of the BBC’s Burmese service.

“What the opposition are lacking is the air power the Myanmar junta has at its disposal.”

The weight of sanctions and international isolation imposed in the wake of the coup has not stopped Myanmar’s rulers from manufacturing a litany of weapons, including sniper rifles, anti-aircraft guns, missile launchers, grenades, bombs and landmines.

Alongside Yanghee Lee, the report was written by Chris Sidoti and Marzuki Darusman, both from the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

Their work sources leaked military documents along with interviews with former soldiers and satellite imagery of the factories. Photos have also been invaluable: images taken in 2017 prove the home-produced weapons were used before the coup.

Soldiers are seen carrying made-in-Myanmar rifles during the Inn Din massacre, when Myanmar troops killed 10 unarmed ethnic Rohingya men.

“More recently, we had the massacres that took place in the Sagaing region,” explains Chris Sidoti, “particularly the bombing and shelling of a school that resulted in a number of children and others being killed.

“The weapons that were found, or the… military artillery shell casings that were found on that occasion were clearly identifiable as coming from those production plants.”

Some of the equipment used to make weapons is believed to come from Austria. High-precision machines made by the Austrian supplier GFM Steyr are used in several locations, the Special Advisory Council says, to manufacture gun barrels.

When the machines need maintenance, they’re shipped to Taiwan, where GFM Steyr technicians reportedly restore them before they’re returned to Myanmar. The report says it’s unclear whether the Austrian company’s technicians are aware they’re working on things that will be used inside Myanmar.

GFM Steyr did not respond to a BBC request for comment on the report’s findings.