Officials in Sweden have revealed that Swedish-made weapons used by Burmese troops against Kachin rebels had originally been sold to the Indian government. Selling or passing on such weapons would have been in breach of strict regulations on arms trading.
Earlier this week it emerged that a number of M-3 Carl Gustav anti-tank weapons, produced by Saab Bofors Dynamics, had been recovered by the rebels following clashes with the Burmese army. While most Western sanctions against Burma have been suspended, the prohibition on the sale of weapons remains in place.
Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Sweden’s Agency for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls (ISP) said an investigation based on the serial number on one of the weapons had found it was part of a larger shipment of arms sold to the Indian government in 2003. The spokeswoman said that the Indian embassy in Stockholm was co-operating with the inquiry.
“We had a discussion with them and they said they were looking seriously at this,” said the spokeswoman.
India is among a small number of nations known to have sold weapons to Burma’s military junta over the years. Analysts believe some of the weapons were provided to equip Burmese troops for operations against militant groups operating in India’s north-east but which have camps inside Burma.
Yet in this instance, the M-3 grenade launchers were being used against ethnic rebel fighters in Burma’s north-east in operations that have been widely condemned by the international community. The resumption of conflict in June last year has forced tens of thousands of people into refugee camps.
“The Indians have tried for years to get the Burmese to do something about those cross-border sanctuaries, and even suggested joint operations. But the Burmese have done nothing as those north-east Indian rebels are not posing any threat to them,” said Bertil Lintner, the Swedish journalist who discovered the weapons in Kachin last month. “So, they took the guns from the Indians and attacked the Kachins instead.”
In September 2011, the Democratic Voice of Burma website reported that the armed Indian separatist group, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), claimed to have come under attack from Burmese troops who had been supplied with heavy weapons from India. However, there has been speculation the Burmese troops had “put on a show” for the Indians.
A spokesman for Saab, Sebastian Carlsson, said the company had been selling arms to the Indian government for many years. He said the contracts with the Indian authorities included end-user agreements that prohibited the weapons being sold on to other countries. Asked how the weapons had been passed to the Burmese army, Mr Carlsson said: “I don’t speculate.”
India’s ministry of defence, foreign ministry and its embassy in Stockholm have failed to provide answers to questions about the weapons from The Independent.
Campaigners say the revelations highlight serious deficiencies in the system of overseeing the EU sanctions and the need for monitoring.
“This revelation is disturbing but not surprising. India is rapidly becoming one of the world’s largest arms importers and is listed as a “priority market” for UK arms exports,” said the London-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade. “But the fact that these Swedish weapons have been found in the hands of Burma’s army shows that the exporting country has no practical control over how the weapons are used or where they will end up.”
The result of the ISP investigation was first revealed by Sweden’s Trade Minister, Ewa Björling, on Thursday. She told the Swedish parliament officials had requested an “expedited answer” from the Indian authorities. “There has been a weapons embargo in place against Burma for a very long time and Sweden hasn’t exported any weapons there since,” she added.
In a statement, the Swedish government said it had summoned India’s ambassador to stress the seriousness of the matter. “Sweden has strict control legislation regarding exports of military equipment. End-user certificates are a key part of this control system,” said the statement.
“An end-user certificate means that the recipient country makes a commitment to ensure that only its own armed forces make use of the Swedish materiel and that the materiel is not re-exported in any form to a third country.”