Myanmar is facing criticism over reports it has been receiving ballistic missile technology and weapons from North Korea.
A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs said the government was “concerned” and condemned North Korea’s weapons programme “in the strongest possible terms”.
But the spokesperson said there were no plans to cut the Australian Defence Force’s training and other support for the Burmese military.
It is not immediately obvious why Myanmar would want missile systems as it fights numerous low-level domestic conflicts with ethnic-minority armies within its own borders.
There is an ongoing offensive in Kachin State’s Tanai Township where the fighting has currently trapped close to 3,000 migrant workers and civilians in gold and amber mining areas.
In June 2017 the military used helicopters to drop hundreds of leaflets over the mining sites demanding that workers leave immediately, and declaring that anyone continuing to work in the mines would be considered an accomplice of Kachin Independence Army insurgents.
The armed forces’ equipment was on show last week with the first major land-sea-air exercise in more than 20 years to supposedly improve inter-service coordination.
The three-day war exercise east of Pathein on the Bay of Bengal reportedly involved more than 8,000 troops in live-firing beach landing manoeuvres on Shwe Thaung Yan beach.
A leaked United Nations report has alleged North Korea violated UN sanctions to earn US$200 million last year, including by supplying arms to Myanmar and Syria. Hardware included items prohibited by nuclear and other major weapon proliferation agreements.
UN monitors said an unnamed country reported it had evidence that last year Nay Pyi Taw received ballistic missile systems from Pyongyang, along with conventional weapons, including multiple rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles.
Myanmar denies having military ties with North Korea, insisting that relations ended before the transition to a quasi-civilian government in 2011.
Pyongyang is believed to have first sent missile specialists and material for arms production to Myanmar about 10 years ago.
Mobile Hwasong-5 (Scud B) missiles with a range of 300km were reportedly among the arms systems purchased.
In 2014 China confirmed to UN monitors that North Korean-made ballistic, missile-related alloy rods destined for Myanmar had been found on a ship docked in China.
According to Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, reports of military attacks “against homes and places of worship, of forcible displacement and relocation; the burning of villages, land grabbing, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and enforced disappearances are acts that have been alleged against the military and security forces for generations”.
She wrote: “I was told repeatedly by other ethnic groups I spoke to, be they Kachin, Karen, Kayin or Shan, that they have suffered the same horrific violations at the hand of the Tatmadaw [military] over several decades, and in the case of some groups continuing today.
“As the world’s attention is focused on the atrocities in Rakhine State, potential war crimes are being committed in Shan and Kachin states without so much as a murmur of disapproval from the international community,” Lee reported.
Her full report is due to be delivered to the UN Human Rights Council on March 12.
North Korean missiles on display. Picture credit: Wikimedia