04/17/2023, 16.38
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Russian and Chinese weapons behind deadliest airstrike that killed 170 people

Airstrikes have become a daily occurrence for the people of Myanmar with Russia and China as the junta’s main weapons suppliers even after the coup of February 2021. Local armed groups have responded by weaponising drones.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The death toll from last week’s airstrike by the Myanmar military in Pa Zi Gyi, a village in Sagaing, has risen to at least 170 people, including scores of civilians, adults and children.

This was one of the deadliest incidents since the outbreak of civil war, but not unusual since airstrikes have become a daily occurrence over the past year thanks to weapons supplied by Russia and China in violation of international law.

Following the military coup on 1 February 2021 when the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi was overthrown, Myanmar has become a battleground in the ongoing piecemeal Third World War that Pope Francis has mentioned several times.

“The same types of weapons that are killing Ukrainians are killing people in Myanmar,” Tom Andrews, special human rights rapporteur for Myanmar

Since the coup two years, China, Russia and Serbia (a Russian ally) have continued to send weapons that the junta is using against the civilian population, this according to “Enabling Atrocities: UN Member States' Arms Transfers to the Myanmar Military", a report Andrews issued last year on the shipment of weapons by UN member states to Myanmar’s junta starting in 2018.

The study found that in September 2021 Myanmar’s Air Force had at least seven JF-17 aircraft manufactured and supplied with missiles from China, and in December of the same year, the junta commissioned four Chinese fighter jets and four transport aircraft.

The value of shipments from China to Myanmar in 2022 has almost doubled over 2021, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported. The latter uses its own standards to measure and assess the transfer of arms from one country to another.

While China’s military exports to Myanmar are substantial, they are still far below those of the Russian Federation.

Russia, has been Myanmar’s ally for historical and economic reasons and its main weapons supplier. Russian exports to Myanmar in 2022 was more than double that of China, SIPRI data show.

Myanmar Witness, an NGO reporting on human rights in Myanmar, looked at junta airstrikes in the last six months of 2022, noting that most aircraft were Russian-made Mi-35 attack helicopters.

On several occasions, Russian officials have stressed the importance of boosting military ties with Myanmar, while reassuring the country’s military that it would fulfil orders placed before February 2021.

In June 2021, a Myanmar delegation travelled to Russia to look at the manufacturing process of the Panstir S-1 missile defence system. Two months later, in August, a Russian official announced that Myanmar, along with other countries, was part of a € 2 billion (US$ 2.2 billion) arms transfer deals, while in December the export of six more Yak-130 jets was authorised.

Satellite images show that transfers continued in 2022, according to the aforementioned report.

Most of the airstrikes are in areas under the control of armed ethnic groups that emerged at the time of the country's independence in 1948 and which have continued to fight the central government.

After the outbreak of the civil war two years ago, they joined resistance movements against Myanmar’s military regime, which includes the People's Defence Forces (PDF), the armed wing of the National Unity Government (NUG) set up in exile, composed mostly of former lawmakers from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

Unlike the military, the resistance relies on homemade weapons, including commercial drones, which are ordered on the Internet or manufactured with 3D printers and then weaponised.

Resistance drone attacks are still sporadic, but in some cases they have managed to provide important support to resistance ground forces.

In at least one place, junta soldiers were forced to run into the forest to avoid resistance drone attacks.

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