Claims Singaporean entities supplied $254m worth of arms to Myanmar junta are under investigation

The Singaporean government is investigating allegations that entities based within the country supplied US$254 million worth of arms to the Myanmar military.

Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan told members of parliament on Monday that the government was taking “very seriously” a recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews.

The report, published on May 17, claimed that since the start of the coup in February 2021 the Myanmar military has imported more than $1 billion worth of arms and raw materials to manufacture weapons—more than a quarter of which came from Singapore.

While Russia and China supplied the lion’s share of arms to the junta, accounting for over $400 million and $260 million worth of supplies, respectively, more than half of the suppliers—a total of 138—were Singapore-based, according to the paper.

Balakrishnan said the government has asked Andrews to provide specific and verifiable evidence, such as export transaction documents, in order to determine how the transactions of materials alluded to in the report were connected to the manufacture of weapons in Myanmar.

“We are looking into specific details of the alleged $254 million worth of ‘arms and related goods’ that were shipped through Singapore-based entities to the Myanmar military,” said Balakrishnan, noting that the category of “arms” cited in the report seemed only to cover spare parts and equipment coming out of Singapore, rather than specific armaments.

Other major categories of items mentioned in the report, Balakrishnan pointed out, were dual-use supplies—covering items such as computers, electrical components, and medical equipment—as well as manufacturing equipment—including items such as welding machines and overhead cranes—and raw materials such as steel beams, pipes, and fabric.

“Members would appreciate from these descriptions that the items do not necessarily constitute ‘arms’ or weaponry in its ordinary meaning,” said Balakrishnan. “It is difficult to isolate specific suspicious transactions from such broad categories. We are therefore seeking more details… so that our checks and investigations can be more thorough, and effective based on objective evidence.”

Andrews’ report, titled “The Billion Dollar Death Trade: International Arms Networks that Enable Human Rights Violations in Myanmar,” acknowledged that there were no indications the Singaporean government had approved, or was involved in, the shipment of arms and associated materials to the Myanmar military.

It further noted, however, that the Singaporean government could significantly impact the junta’s ability to wage war on the people of Myanmar by strictly enforcing its ban on weapons sales to them—including items and materials that could be used for a military purpose. 

“Dual-use items, raw materials, and spare parts for advanced weapons systems have been flowing to the Myanmar military through entities based in Singapore on a regular basis since the coup, enabling its continuing operation of KaPaSa [weapons] factories and providing critical spare parts to advanced weapons systems,” he wrote.

In a press release accompanying the report, he observed that “arms dealers operating out of Singapore are critical to the continued operation of the Myanmar military’s deadly weapons factories,” and alleged that “Singaporean banks have been used extensively by arms dealers.”

“I implore leaders of Singapore to seize the information within this report and enforce its policies to the maximum extent possible,” Andrews said. “If the Singapore Government were to stop all shipments and facilitation of arms and associated materials to the Myanmar military from its jurisdiction, the impact on the junta’s ability to commit war crimes would be significantly disrupted.”

Balakrishnan said the government would continue to work closely and constructively with Andrews to seek “specific, verifiable, and where possible court admissible information to advance our investigations.”

He also stressed that it is not the government’s policy intention to block legitimate trade with Myanmar, noting that “Doing so would further set back the country’s development and exacerbate the suffering of the civilian population.”

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