Under fire for planned helicopter sale to Burma | Asia Pacific

Under fire for planned helicopter sale to Burma

Under fire for planned helicopter sale to Burma

Posted 17 July 2007, 20:07 AEST

The European Union's arms embargo against Burma is under threat, with plans by India to sell an attack helicopter to the Burmese military regime.

The proposed sale is criticised in a new report by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations. They say although India owns the Advanced Light Helicopter it plans to sell, the aircraft was made with technology and parts from EU countries which have banned arms sales to Burma for nearly 20 years.

SAWLANI: The report entitled "Indian helicopters for Myanmar" cites various sources who say that the Indian government is planning to transfer the Advanced Light Helicopters to Myanmar. Although India does not place similar embargoes against Yangon, facts state that the Indian-manufactured helicopter would not be operational without vital components from EU member states. This, according to the report, violates the EU arms embargo, which has been in place since Myanmar's military regime took control 1988, resulting in numerous instances of human rights violations. Amnesty International's arms control researcher Helen Hughes explains.

HUGHES: This bans all arms and related material from being directly or indirectly supplied to Myanmar. Our fundamental concern is that India is arming Myanmar - which has an appalling human rights record - but the specific point of our report is to draw attention to the involvement of the EU and the US in the development of the helicopter which the Indian government is apparently planning to transfer to Myanmar.

SAWLANI: Ms Hughes says that the deal is a threat to the embargo because many of the Advcanced Light Helicopter's components are manufactured by EU member states.

HUGHES: You have several EU and US firms which have been involved in the design and development and have also supplied a range of components including fuel tanks and gear boxes from the UK, brake systems from Italy, rocket systems and engines from France.

SAWLANI: Amnesty's arms control researcher says that their main concern is the use of military supplies by the Myanmar government to perpetuate various human rights violations.

HUGHES: The violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law has been widely documented by the international community, and the UN has described them as widespread and systematic.

SAWLANI: In addition, Amnesty International India is demanding that the country suspend all arms transfers to Myanmar. Director of Amnesty International India, Mukul Sharma.

SHARMA: We certainly demand that at the very least India should suspend all arms transfer to Myanmar, which are very likely to be used to support human rights violations in Myanmar

SAWLANI: Mr Sharma does however concede that the transfer of helicopters will proceed.

SHARMA:It's very likely that Indian government plans to transfer this will go ahead. But the actual signing and the transfer, there is a veil of secrecy and non-transfer of information by the Indian government in this regard.

SAWLANI: According to former Australian Ambassador to Myanmar Trevor Wilson, India is not the only country that supplies military equipment to Yangon.

WILSON: The main source of military equipment for Burma is China, according to various reports I've seen, but there are other countries that have supplied high level equipment, including Russia, the Ukraine and others.

SAWLANI: Mr Wilson says that while the EU arms embargo has been successful in preventing member states selling military supplies to Myanmar, it is not enough to stop the country's military regime from continuing to purchase more arms.

WILSON: There is always going to be a problem if you haven't got a mandatory UN-enforced ban because there will always be circumvention of any sort of bans which are imposed by individual countries, or in the case of the EU a group of countries. So it becomes ridiculous if the sources of supply like China and Russia are still able to sell arms.

SAWLANI: Despite apparent tansgressions on the part of India, Amnesty India's Mukul Sharman says that this is not likely to sour the country's relationship with EU member countries.

SHARMA:The frail economic ties are not at the cost of human rights, and there is no tradeoff between the human rights and the economic ties.

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