Indian FM Arrives in Burma amid Weapons Controversy
By SAMANTHA MICHAELS / THE IRRAWADDY On Friday, December 14, 2012 @ 9:53 am
India’s Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid arrived in Burma on Friday, a day after Sweden’s government said it had spoken with Indian officials about Swedish weapons that had been sent to Burma via India in violation of a European arms embargo.
Swedish Trade Minister Ewa Björling said on Thursday that the government had spoken with India’s ambassador to Stockholm and confirmed that the M-3 Carl Gustav rocket launchers were originally exported to India, according to a Swedish media report.
Björling said Swedish officials were working with India to investigate how the weapons ended up in Burma, adding that Sweden has not exported weapons to the Southeast Asian country since the European Union first placed an arms embargo on it in response to human rights violations by the former military regime.
The announcement comes as Khurshid arrives in Burma for bilateral talks with President Thein Sein and Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin in the administrative capital, Naypyidaw.
The Swedish rocket launchers were recovered by ethnic rebels fighting against the Burma’s army in the country’s northernmost Kachin State, said Bertil Lintner, a Swedish journalist who broke the story in Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet newspaper earlier this week.
The rebels, from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), said they found rocket shells from the Swedish-made launchers after two army helicopters fired on their bases and refugee camps for civilians displaced during the conflict. The KIA rebels said they recovered one of the launchers.
The European Union has suspended many economic sanctions against Burma in recognition of recent reforms by the country’s quasi-civilian government, but the arms embargo, imposed more than two decades ago, remains in place.
The embargo requires European manufacturers to ensure that any weapons sold to foreign countries are not later passed on to the Southeast Asian nation.
India has been known to sell weapons to neighboring Burma’s former military junta in the past, partly in a bid to stop Indian militant groups that operate inside Burma.
Lintner said earlier this week that the Burma Army received the Swedish guns from India’s military.
Because India is a major market for Swedish weapons manufacturers, he said he doubted the Swedish government would respond with punitive measures.
“It will be investigated, but because India is such an important market and a major buyer of Swedish weapons, there will probably just be a slap on the wrist,” he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “India will apologize and promise not to do it again.”
Khurshid will be in Burma until Sunday, according to a statement by the Indian government this week.
In addition to meeting with Thein Sein, he will go to Rangoon, Burma’s largest city, to open an international Buddhist conference and officially unveil a giant limestone Buddha statue at the Shwedagon Pagoda.
He is also expected to meet with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The bilateral talks will serve as a precursor to Thein Sein’s upcoming trip to New Delhi next week for the Asean-Indian Commemorative Summit, an official from India’s External Affairs Ministry said.
With additional reporting by Zarni Mann
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