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Burma Junta Deserves A Universal Arms-Embargo

Burma Junta Deserves A Universal Arms-Embargo

Op-Ed by Naing Ko Ko

Thanks to information technology, particularly to DVB, CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera, and especially to some brave people in Burma, both the people of Burma and the international community were able to witness on TV many aspects of the Saffron Revolution of Burma in September 2007. Thousands of Burma soldiers poured onto the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay in trucks made in China to shoot into peaceful monks, nuns and civilians.

Respected peaceful monks became corpses killed by ammunition produced in China. Rangoon's clammy sky changed to black and gray by tear-gas grenades that also came from China. Burmese soldiers have used not only Chinese-made military equipment such as helmets, uniforms, boots, bayonets, but also munitions, including tanks, small-arms, artillery, surface to surface missiles, surface to air missiles, jet-fighters, naval-vessels, even a nuclear reactor since this military junta became an outpost of China and Russia's ally.

No one knows exactly how much of such China-made strategic, conventional and non-conventional munitions are deployed in Burma as the military junta never ever releases authentic statistics on purchasing for its defence sector. However, the international strategy and security watchers, such as Jane's Intelligence Review, CIA, IISS and SIPRI, observe that the junta's army has been installing China-made ammunitions to upgrade its modern "tat-ma-daw".

Most of the military junta's press-conferences claim that 'tat-ma-daw' is linked now with 17 cease-fire ethnic insurgent groups, however, on the ground, thousands of ethic people in the border areas and mainly unarmed civilians, have been slaughtered by China-made munitions. The Burma Army has been producing thousands of landmines causalities, and other handicapped and injured people, each year, According to Landmine Monitors of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL); researchers estimate a landmine casualty rate of 1,500 people per year in Burma. However, the Burma Army has not stopped buying arms from China for its war against innocent civilians. China and Russia have been behaving like a guardian protecting Burma in the international relations and diplomatic sphere.

Although the law and orders of the SPDC prohibit forced conscription of children into its army, the issue of child soldiers in Burma has reached the table of United Nations Security Council. Burma Army personnel have been violating international standards prohibiting the recruitment and use of child soldiers since 1988. The New York based Human Rights Watch documented how children as young as 10 are recruited by force into Burma's army. At recruitment centres, officers falsify documents to register new recruits as being aged 18, even if they are clearly underage. HRW considers that 70,000 or more of the Burma Army's estimated 350,000 soldiers may be children.

The Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Trend Indicator Value (TIV) of arms importers to Myanmar (Burma) in 2005-2006 were China, India, Serbia and Montenegro. China was the biggest arm-exporter with a value with 2.5 billion US dollars. An arm of US government's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the World Fact Book stated, in the same year of 2005, that the Burmese junta spent 2.10 percentage of gross domestic product on military expenditure.

According to Jane's Intelligence Review (Vol. 12, No. 10, October 2000), antipersonnel landmines imported from China including Chinese Types-58, -59, -69, -72A; Russian made POMZ-2, POMZ-2M, PMN, PMD-6; US made M-14, M-16A1, M-18, and Indian/British LTM-73, LTM-76. In addiction, the military junta has not ratified the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT), and has used antipersonnel mines of China, India, Russia, and other unidentified manufacture.

Although the Burma Army occasionally denied its use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but there is a lack of ant independent monitoring system in Burma. Despite the regime signing the Chemical Weapons Convention on January 13, 1993, to date it has not yet ratified the agreement. Some military strategists estimate that regime is trying to obtain such WMD and nuclear reactor from China and Russia. Some firmly said that Russia was already providing such a reactor to military generals.

While there are no crucial and strategic security threats from either internal or external enemies or actors, the Burma Army has doubled in size since 1988 and continues to expand, with military forces estimated at 428,250 active military, ranking it 12th in the world, and with a total force of 500,250 , ranking it 26th in the world. The Burma Army has totally destroyed almost every other institution and most of civil societies.

Recently, January 23, 2008, UNICEF claimed that hundreds of children under the age of 5 die from preventable diseases each day in Burma, the second-worst mortality rate for children in Asia apart from Afghanistan. Dr. Osamu Kunii, the nutrition expert of UNICEF in Burma said that there were between 100,000 to 150,000 child deaths per year in the country; equal to between 270 and 400 daily.

Almost every policy is formulated by unskilled military generals and with the state economy unskilfully run by army generals as their own private business. The result is that almost every policy of the military junta failed through lack of professionalism, human resources and follow-through. Sadly, this resource-rich and beautiful S.E Asia country, in the hands of the generals, has turned into a failed state. There is an exodus of millions of Burmese to neighbouring countries to hunt for any job, no matter how dirty or unskilled, and some others have migrated to the first world countries to avoid suffering from the oppression and tyranny of their army.

In order to stop such a modern tragedy, the international community needs to establish multilateral and bilateral binding resolutions on arms-embargos instead of turning to 'megaphone-diplomacy' and issuing condemnatory statements to deaf military generals. As long as the army generals are kept in place by the arms and munitions from more developed countries, they will never sit down for real dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and their own people. Before another mass killing footages appears on the TV screens, it is time to adopt a universal arms-embargo targeting the Burmese military generals.


Naing Ko Ko is a postgraduate scholarship student in the Department of Political Studies, at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He is a former Political Prisoner.

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