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India Urged to End Arms Exports to War-Torn Myanmar

FILE - Myanmar military officers leave the venue during a parade to commemorate Myanmar's 78th Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2023.
FILE - Myanmar military officers leave the venue during a parade to commemorate Myanmar's 78th Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2023.

A Myanmar pressure group is urging India to stop selling arms to their war-torn country's military and asking its Western allies to join the call, singling out Sweden and the United States.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first state visit to the U.S. last week. Both countries are members of the Quad alliance, along with Australia and Japan, widely seen as working to counterbalance China's growing sway in the Asia Pacific.

The pressure group, Justice for Myanmar, says its research has found weapons parts made in India but of Swedish design being shipped to Myanmar, even after a 2021 military coup that toppled the country's elected government.

United Nations experts have accused Myanmar's military of crimes against humanity and war crimes as it battles a stubborn armed resistance, killing thousands of civilians and displacing over 1.5 million people across the country.

While the U.S., European Union and others have imposed arms embargos on Myanmar, India, which shares a 1,600-kilometer border with the country, remains one of the military regime's few remaining suppliers.

"Indian exports of arms and dual use goods and technologies are significant for the Myanmar military and enables it to continue to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity," Justice for Myanmar spokeswoman Yadanar Maung told VOA.

She said India's latest shipments make it "further complicit" and urged its Quad allies to "step up and start using their leverage to stop India's abhorrent support for the junta."

Make in India

Justice For Myanmar said its review of Indian export records found more than $5 million worth of deliveries from state-owned Bharat Electronics to the Myanmar military and its known arms brokers between November 2022 and April. It says the shipments included transducers and sonar parts for naval vessels, radar equipment and battlefield radios.

The group said the records also show a shipment of 20 122 mm barrels from Yantra India in October last year, likely for howitzer artillery guns of the sort the military is reported to have used on civilian targets.

Data from global trade tracking service Panjiva, it adds, show thousands of explosive fuses shipped to another known arms broker for Myanmar's military in 2019, 2020 and 2022 from India's Sandeep Metalcraft.

Panjiva gathers and shares commercial shipping data using government-issued records from 17 countries, including India. While the records for the 2020 and 2022 shipments do not specify the types of fuses, Justice For Myanmar said the 2019 deliveries were listed as model 447, for the 84 mm Carl Gustaf rifle, a shoulder-fired weapon originally designed and manufactured by Sweden. The pressure group said it believes the later fuse shipments were of the same type.

FILE - An exhibitor of SAAB, a Swedish defense company, shows the 85MM Carl-Gustaf, a portable artillery system during the 8th International Land and Naval Defense system exhibition, in New Delhi, India, Feb. 6, 2014.
FILE - An exhibitor of SAAB, a Swedish defense company, shows the 85MM Carl-Gustaf, a portable artillery system during the 8th International Land and Naval Defense system exhibition, in New Delhi, India, Feb. 6, 2014.

In September 2022, Swedish arms giant Saab announced plans to build a factory to make the Carl Gustaf rifle in India and to have the plant up and running by 2024.

Given India's ongoing exports, Justice For Myanmar said it worries the rifles the factory will soon be turning out could, like the fuses, end up in the junta's hands.

"When Saab produces arms in India, there are no guarantees over what will happen with these arms. There may be requirements on end use and end users imposed by Sweden and Saab, but we have not seen the terms so there is no way to know what, if any, requirements there would be to not sell onwards to Myanmar," Yadanar Maung said.

Even with such terms, there is no practical way to guarantee the rifles will not be exported, she added, calling on Sweden to suspend all licensing and production agreements with Indian arms makers.

Neither Saab nor Sweden's Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied to VOA's requests for comment.

Bharat, Sandeep, Yantra and India's Ministry of External Affairs did not reply either.

Means to an end

The shipments from Bharat, Sandeep and Yantra are only the latest in a string of Indian arms exports to Myanmar over the past few years.

In a report last month, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said India's post-putsch arms exports to the country come to at least $51 million in all.

In his report, Andrews said India has no excuses not to know of the Myanmar military's "probable war crimes" and that the exports "likely violate" New Delhi's obligations under the Wassenaar Agreement. The nonbinding treaty obliges members, which include India, to prevent arms transfers to end users whose behavior becomes "a cause for serious concern."

"India should therefore be aware that the arms it provides to the Myanmar military ... are likely to be used in the commission of international crimes," Andrews wrote.

"It would be in the interest of the people of Myanmar for India's state-owned arms manufacturers to stop selling arms and associated materials to the Myanmar military and the government of India to stop authorizing these arms transfers," he added.

Ian Storey, a senior fellow at Singapore's ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute tracking the region's relations with major powers, said he sees little chance of that.

"For India, arms sales to Myanmar are seen as a means to stay on the junta's right side and prevent the country from becoming too dependent on China and Russia," he told VOA.

"New Delhi's Quad partners can do little to prevent the transfer of weapons from India to Myanmar," he added. "As we have seen with India's policy towards the Russia-Ukraine war, New Delhi acts to advance what it sees as its national interests, not those of other countries."

Calling all countries

India has lately stepped up its arms and oil orders from Russia and abstained from votes at the U.N. condemning its invasion of Ukraine. It also joined China and Russia in staying out of a U.N. Security Council vote demanding an immediate end to the violence in Myanmar in December.

Justice for Myanmar released its latest findings on India's arms exports to Myanmar last week, just ahead of Modi's state visit to the U.S. It urged Washington to push New Delhi to cut the junta off and to apply pressure by placing conditions on its own military aid to India.

VOA asked the U.S. State Department whether the United States raised the arms exports during Modi's stay. In an emailed reply, the department's press office said the U.S. "expressed deep concern about the deteriorating situation" in Myanmar during his visit but it did not provide a direct answer to the question.

It said the U.S. urged "the international community and all countries" to block arms exports to Myanmar and that stopping their flow was "critical to preventing the recurrence of atrocities against the people of Burma," using another name for Myanmar.