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7/5/2024 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) — A recent report from the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar found that Thailand has increased its arms trade with the military regime in Myanmar to $120 million, up from $60 in 2022. The Burmese military, known locally as the Tatmadaw, is using the arms to continue a decades-long war against ethnic and religious minorities in the country. 

The Tatmadaw had previously worked more closely with Singapore, which has recently cracked down on business with the junta in response to U.S.-led sanctions and a global effort to isolate the regime financially. Thailand does not have rules against doing business with Myanmar and has faced international criticism for propping up the regime, along with Russia and China. 

Despite massive military expenditures — estimates place Burmese military spending at about 3.3% of GDP, and experts say the junta has imported more than $1 billion in arms since taking over the country in 2021 — rebel groups have chalked up regular victories in recent months. 

Speaking about the new report, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, urged the international community to continue putting pressure on the Tatmadaw.  

“With the junta on its heels, it is critical that financial institutions take their human rights obligations seriously and not facilitate the junta’s deadly transactions,” he said. “These actions could play a decisive role in helping to turn the tide in Myanmar and saving untold numbers of lives.” 

In April, a rebel coalition made up of various ethnic militias captured the vital town of Myawaddy on the country’s eastern border with Thailand. The town was the primary point for billions of dollars worth of trade between the two countries. 

The Tatmadaw recaptured Myawaddy a few weeks later with help from the Karen National Army (KNA). This profiteering militia has previously aligned itself with the junta but now operates in its own interests. The KNA split off from the anti-junta Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in 2010. It has significant economic interests in the Myawaddy area, operating scam call centers, casinos, and an international human trafficking ring to supply workers for its various enterprises. 

The KNLA is one of the oldest militias in the country and has been actively involved in defending religious and ethnic minorities against junta aggression for decades. 

The loss of Myawaddy was considered the junta’s largest since a major offensive was launched against it last fall. Hundreds of government troops surrendered to the rebels outside of Myawaddy, adding to the regime’s woes. 

Experts believe that the Tatmadaw is atrophying rapidly, with as few as 150,000 personnel remaining after the loss of about 21,000 through casualties or desertions since the 2021 coup. This number is significantly smaller than previous estimates of 300,000 to 400,000 and calls into question the junta’s ability to sustain its nationwide military campaign. Research from the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar suggests that anti-junta militia gains have reduced the area under solid Tatmadaw control to 17% or less. 

Earlier this year, the U.N. released figures showing a threefold increase in civilian casualties by landmines in 2023 over the previous year, verifying 1,052 incidents in 2023 compared to 390 in 2022. More than 20% of victims, the U.N. said in a statement, were children. 

“Children are particularly vulnerable to landmines as they are less likely to recognize them and may be unaware of their dangers,” the U.N. said, going on to explain that “the widespread deployment of weapons throughout the country means that children can encounter landmines practically anywhere, including near their homes, schools, playgrounds, and farming areas.” 

The junta is known to abduct children, forcing them to walk ahead of their troops through minefields. In many cases, their victims are members of ethnic and religious minority communities fighting back against the atrocities of a military that has waged a decades-long war of ethnic and religious cleansing. 

Though Myanmar’s population is about 87% Buddhist, pockets of minority religious communities exist throughout the country, including in Kayeh state, where about 46% of the population identifies as Christian. On Myanmar’s western border with India, Chin State is about 85% Christian, while Rakhine State is home to a significant population of Rohingya people, most of whom are Muslim. 

Representing an extremist interpretation of Buddhism, the Tatmadaw has long persecuted these ethnic and religious minorities with severe campaigns of violence and intimidation. 

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