By Thalif Deen
The United States, which has failed in its attempts to move a divided UN Security Council to adopt a resolution restricting arms sales to the military regime in Myanmar, has been left with only one alternative: continue to hit Myanmar with unilateral military sanctions.
With two veto-wielding permanent members—China and Russia—implicitly and explicitly backing Myanmar, the Security Council has remained paralyzed.
At a press conference at the ASEAN summit in Cambodia on November 12, UN Secretary-General António Guterres was asked: “What is your response to criticism that the United Nations as well as ASEAN have failed the Myanmar people? And also regarding the 15 point statement that ASEAN has written up yesterday—do you think this statement is going to make a real difference on the ground in Myanmar? “
Well, first of all, everybody has failed in relation to Myanmar, said Guterres. The international community as a whole has failed. And the UN is part of international community.
“It is dramatic to see the suffering of the Myanmarese people. Now, in relation to the movement forward and ASEAN’s movement forward. As I said, I believe that the Indonesian presidency with whom we have been cooperating with the government of Indonesia very closely in relation to Myanmar, I believe the Indonesian government will be able to push forward the agenda in a positive way and my special envoy is ready to fully cooperate with the ASEAN envoy in order to be able to create the conditions, to establish, as I mentioned, a democratic transition to let the political prisoners go in freedom and to end the dramatic violations of human rights in Myanmar.”
Ahead of the ASEAN summit, the United States announced on November 8 it was taking additional actions against those who enable the regime’s violence, particularly its repeated air assaults and killing of civilians.
The Department of the Treasury has singled out Sky Aviator Company Limited and its owner and director, Kyaw Min Oo, pursuant to Executive Order 14014, for operating in the defence sector of the Burmese economy.
Under Kyaw’s control, Sky Aviator is a key supplier of military aircraft parts to Burma’s military.
(In 1989, the military junta, which seized control of the government, changed the name of the country, from Burma to Myanmar. But successive US administrations have officially refused to accept this name change.)
Since the February 2021 coup, Sky Aviator has received multiple arms shipments from sanctioned entities. Kyaw has also facilitated foreign military officers’ visits to Burma as well as the import of arms and other military equipment and provided assault helicopter upgrades, according to the US State Department.
Currently, Russia and China are two of the major arms suppliers to Myanmar and will therefore protect the country from any form of multilateral UN military or economic sanctions.
Although it does not officially release figures for its annual military budget or provide a breakdown of its expenditures on arms purchase, Myanmar purchased over $2.4 billion worth or arms between 2010-2019, according to a database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
China accounted for about $1.3 billion in arms; Russia $807 million; India $145 million; and South Korea $90 million.
Antony J. Blinken, US Secretary of State, said on November 8 that Burma’s military regime has waged a brutal campaign of violence against the people of Burma, carrying out lethal air strikes against the political opposition and the broader civilian population.
On October 23, the regime carried out one of its deadliest aerial bombings since the coup, firing upon an ethnic community gathering in an attack that killed as many as 100 people and claimed the lives of artists, performers, and concertgoers in Kachin state.
“We stand with the people of Burma in the face of the regime’s increasingly brazen attempts to terrorize and intimidate them, while suppressing their aspirations for a democratic, inclusive, and prosperous future,” Blinken declared.
He also said the United States will continue to work with our partners to promote justice and accountability for the regime’s human rights abuses and deprive the regime of the revenue and resources it uses to commit atrocities against the people of Burma.
Jan Servaes, who has written extensively on Myanmar and is UNESCO-Chair in Communication for Sustainable Social Change at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told IDN Blinken condemns the cowardly attack of October 23.
But this is only one of the almost daily attacks by the Burmese Air Force on civilian targets. Blinken aims for sanctions at Sky Aviator. But again, leaves other US (and Western) interests out of the picture.
He said it is to be seen how the latest list of sanctions will be implemented (https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/us-eu-extend-myanmar-sanctions-target-aviation-company-minister-judge.html)
The role of ASEAN-member Singapore as a front or intermediary could be mentioned. Some 116 companies based in Singapore and Myanmar have brokered the supply of weapons and other equipment worth many millions of US dollars to the Myanmar military, said Servaes.
Linked to the total of 78 Myanmar-based companies supplying the military are at least 38 subsidiary or associated companies in Singapore, he noted.
JFM called on Singapore to impose immediate sanctions to ban the use of its territory, including its banks and ports, for the supply of arms and equipment to the Myanmar military.
“So far, only a few of the companies supplying arms and equipment to the junta have been sanctioned”, said Servaes, who has taught ‘international communication’ in Australia, Belgium, China, Hong Kong, the US, Netherlands and Thailand.
The vast majority are continuing to operate freely. This is unacceptable,” according to JFM spokesperson Ma Yadanar Maung.
Singapore has significant power to end the military regime’s war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it will remain complicit in the junta’s atrocities if it fails to take meaningful action, she added.
“Singapore and other governments imposed swift and coordinated sanctions on the Russian government and its arms businesses in response to its aggression against Ukraine. The time is well overdue for governments to take a decisive and coordinated response to the Myanmar military’s international crimes,” said Ma Yadanar Maung.
Currently, some western countries, including the US and European Union member states, have imposed sanctions against a few notorious arms dealers and companies, including U Tay Za and his Htoo Group of Companies, U Aung Hlaing Oo’s Myanmar Chemical and Machinery Co, Dr Aung Moe Myint, who runs Dynasty Excellency, Dr Naing Htut Aung’s International Gateways Group, U Sitt Taing Aung’s Yatanarpon Aviation Support and U Jonathan Kyaw Thaung’s KT Group.
Many other companies supplying military equipment to the Myanmar air force and navy are still operating freely, including LT Resources Co), which is owned by family members of former Myanmar air force chief Major General Maung Maung Kyaw, Mega Hill General Trading (https://www.megahill-myanmar.net/) and Star Sapphire Trading (https://opencorporates.com/companies/mm/1384-2010-2011).
A JLM report also named the Singapore-based companies Asia Trading Group Private Ltd, Shwe Htee San Trading Co, Mega Dynamic Co. Ltd and Achiever Marine Service, Myan Shwe Pyi Tractors Ltd, Sun & Moon 777, Moezac Co, Singa International Enterprise, Pyae Naing Thu Co. Ltd and Xinde Marine Engineering Pte Ltd as supplying equipment to the Myanmar air force and navy.
It listed brokers of arms and equipment to the Myanmar military who have had business with the Myanmar military since its coup attempt.
Russia remains a major supplier of arms and dual-use goods for the Myanmar military, aiding and abetting the military’s genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. (https://www.justiceformyanmar.org/press-releases/justice-for-myanmar-calls-for-sanctions-on-19-russian-suppliers-of-arms-and-related-equipment-to-the-myanmar-military) (https://www.ipsnews.net/2022/08/pariah-solidarity-myanmar-russia/)
China’s military impact, said Servaes, has tempered a bit but remains largely on the economic front. Junta leaders prefer military equipment from Russia to China because of poor second-hand material provided by China in the past.
Meanwhile, in a statement released last week, the London-based Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) said it was “strongly encouraged” by the European Union’s new sanctions on members of the junta’s State Administration Council (SAC), the judiciary, the prison system, arms dealers Tay Za, Naing Htut Aung, and Aung Myo Min.
“However, the situation in Burma is dire and faster and more robust action is still needed. Human rights violations are steadily increasing in Burma as they struggle to maintain control of the country. Civilians in Sagaing, Karen State, and other parts of the country have faced horrendous massacres in the past month that demand further action from the international community.”
The Burmese military, BHRN said, is struggling to win the civil war against ethnic armed groups and the pro-democratic People’s Defense Forces.
As a result, they are attempting to commit atrocities against the public to reduce these groups’ popular support. The military is vulnerable, but the international community needs to do more to prevent them from committing atrocities against the public.
“Outside of aid from China and Russia, the SAC relies on a handful of industries to continue earning revenue and funding their war effort. Addressing these sectors as thoroughly as possible is vital to ending the regime’s crimes”, the Network said.
“The European Union should launch sanctions on Burma to prevent the SAC from continuing its operations against the civilian population.”
Burma’s energy, timber, and mineral sectors should be cut off entirely, and any loopholes that the SAC can exploit to continue importing or exporting should be adequately addressed.
Burma’s access to aviation fuel should be thoroughly cut off, and supply chain issues that allow Burma access must be addressed, said the statement.