Myanmar’s military goes shopping

10:38:00 PM

Yangon: Myanmar’s military has lavished tens of millions of dollars on the latest lethal hardware, leaning on allies as part of a strategy to become a first-class fighting force.

The spending spree comes despite enduring EU and US arms embargoes and calls earlier this month from a UN fact-finding mission for the international community to sever financial ties to Myanmar’s military.

Senior generals already face sanctions for a scorched earth campaign that drove more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh.

And allegations of fresh abuses are mounting as it now tackles ethnic Rakhine rebels, who are Buddhist, in the same area, according to an Amnesty International report yesterday.

But the army has continued spending, offered discounts by governments with a stake in its strategic location and an eye on a major arms market.

Here are a few which it has turned to for arms, equipment or training.

Despite easing economic sanctions, the United States still does not sell weapons to Myanmar.

China has no such qualms.

Beijing has provided diplomatic cover for Myanmar at the UN. It has also been its main source of weapons, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), which estimates that from 2013-17 China accounted for 68% of Myanmar arms imports.

That includes armoured vehicles, surface-to-air missile technology, radar, and unarmed drones, said Siemon Wezeman, Sipri senior researcher for the Asia-Pacific.

Russia has emerged as one of Myanmar’s most enthusiastic friends on the world stage.

Last month it pulled out all stops for army chief Min Aung Hlaing.

The senior general inspected a helicopter plant, was flown on an Mi 171 over the Siberian city of Ulan Ude, and “enjoyed the scenery” around freshwater Lake Baikal, Myanmar state mouthpiece Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu came to Myanmar in January 2018, met with the commander-in-chief and inked a deal for Myanmar to buy six Su-30 fighter jets, Russian state media TASS reported.

The cost is estimated at US$200mil (RM837mil). The jets are meant to become “the main fighter aircraft of Myanmar’s air force”, the deputy defence minister said.

The US State Department said the deal could aggravate the Rohingya crisis, but a Russian government spokesperson said it “cannot pay attention” to the accusations. — AFP

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