Why India is selling weapons to Burma
In need of help against separatist fighters, India ignores a EU-US weapons ban.
Since 1988, the European Union has had an embargo on selling weapons to Burma. The US has had one since 1993. But that's not stopping India from selling arms to the southeast Asia military regime.Skip to next paragraph
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Last week, India sparked fresh cries of outrage from human rights groups when a report surfaced saying that it plans to sell an unknown number of sophisticated Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) to Burma (also known as Myanmar).
According to a report by Amnesty International and other international organizations, the helicopters should be covered by the embargo because they are made with components from at least six EU countries and the United States.
Indian officials have not confirmed the sale. But they maintain that they need Burma's help in fighting a separatist uprising. This and other recent military sales to Burma are justified in light of India's legitimate security concerns in the restive northeast. India and Burma share a 1,020-mile-long unfenced border, allowing militants from India's northeastern states to use neighbors, such as Burma, as a haven to carry out hit-and-run strikes on Indian soldiers.
But human rights groups are not buying that explanation – and are pushing the European Union to cut all future weapons production deals with India.
"Myanmar is a land of atrocities," says Mungpi Suantak, who and lives in exile in New Delhi and is the assistant editor of Mizzima News, a Burmese news agency. "As done in the past, they [Burma's military regime] will use these weapons to kill their own people."
Mr. Suantak left Burma in 1988 when the current Burmese junta crushed a pro-democracy uprising, killing thousands.
The report, "Indian helicopters for Myanmar: making a mockery of the EU arms embargo?," says that the Advanced Light Helicopters include rocket launchers from Belgium, engines from France, brake systems from Italy, fuel tanks and gearboxes from Britain.
India's breach of the arms embargo, the report says, will undercut EU and US pressure on Burma's military regime to release pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and restore democracy in the country.
The report on ALH sales was released after the UN Secretary General's special adviser on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, visited New Delhi and Beijing earlier this month to seek the support of India and China to resolve the impasse over opening the country up to great political participation of opposition parties.
"It is an ill-timed and ill-thought initiative," says Suhas Chakma, the director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) in New Delhi. "The government of India should be responding to the call of the international community including ASEAN to [promote democracy] in Burma and not sell arms to the junta to give it further legitimacy."
Other Indian weapons sales
This would not be the first time India has sold weapons to Burma. In August 2006, the Indian Navy transferred two BN-2 Defender Islander maritime surveillance aircraft and deck-based air-defense guns.
In September, India's Defense Secretary, Shekhar Dutt, after a two-day official trip to Burma, announced the sale of 105-mm light artillery guns and T-55 tanks being phased out by Indian Army.
And in January this year, the Indian naval chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, visited Yangon in Burma. He announced India's plans to also sell the junta two British-built Islander surveillance aircraft.
India says it needs Burma's help. There are at least 20,000 guerrillas from five major militant groups in India's northeast – all fighting the Indian government for sovereignty or independence – who have training camps in the dense jungles of Sagaing in northern Burma.