Burma Campaign UK today publishes a new briefing paper, ‘Is Serbia Still Arming the Burmese Military?’, detailing the decades-long relationship between Serbia and the Burmese military. This includes arms sales and discussions on increasing defence co-operation taking place as recently as 2019.
Serbia has not publicly stated that it has ended arms sales and its defence co-operation agreement with the Burmese military since the military coup on 1st February 2021. Serbia is supposed to align its foreign policy with the European Union as part of its membership process but has consistently continued to supply arms despite an EU arms embargo.
The Serbian government did not respond to correspondence from Burma Campaign UK requesting clarification on their current policy.
“Given its long track record of arming the Burmese military and ignoring human rights, Serbia must now state unequivocally that it has ended arms sales to the Burmese military,” said Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK.
Burma was Yugoslavia’s first international customer for arms sales. Ne Win’s military dictatorship admired and was inspired by the so-called socialist policies of the Yugoslavian dictatorship and its non-aligned foreign policy. The two regimes became close allies. Yugoslavia was a major arms supplier to Ne Win’s dictatorship from the 1950s onwards, including jets and heavy artillery.
That relationship continued after the break-up of Yugoslavia, with Serbia signing a defence co-operation agreement with the Burmese military in 2015.
Since the military coup, Serbia has aligned itself with EU declarations on Burma, and supported a June 2021 UN General Assembly resolution calling for a halt to the flow of arms to the Burmese military. However, it has also broken with other European countries in its diplomatic approach, recognizing the military as the government of Burma by inviting them as the representative of Burma at a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in October 2021.
Calls for a global arms embargo have grown since the military coup, but with Russia and China likely to veto a UN Security Council resolution on an arms embargo, attention has moved to expanding the number of countries with unilateral arms embargoes. More than 70 of the 119 countries which backed the UN General Assembly Resolution do not have unilateral arms embargoes in place.
Since the coup, South Korea and Japan have imposed arms embargoes and New Zealand has confirmed it bans the export of all military equipment and technology to Burma. Last week British Member of Parliament Rushanara Ali published a statement welcoming confirmation from the Turkish Ambassador in the UK that Turkey bans the export of military equipment to Burma.
“The Burmese military has declared war against the people of Burma, cutting the supply of arms to the military is essential,” said Anna Roberts. “Serbia, as a long-term supplier of arms to the Burmese military, must now publicly commit to a complete ban on the sales of arms, equipment and technology.”