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Indonesian arms makers deny selling weapons to Burmese military

The former leader of a U.N. fact-finding mission to Myanmar and activists alleged they had evidence of sales.

Indonesia’s state-owned defense holdings company on Wednesday denied allegations by human rights activists that its units had sold weapons to Myanmar’s military in violation of bans on arms supplies to the junta-ruled country.

DEFEND ID said its firearms subsidiary, PT Pindad, had exported only sports ammunition products to Myanmar in 2016 for a regional shooting contest. It also said that aircraft maker PT Dirgantara Indonesia and shipbuilder PAL Indonesia had no cooperation or sales agreements with Myanmar.

“We always follow the Indonesian government’s foreign policy and regulations, including the U.N. resolution to stop violence in Myanmar,” Bobby Rasyidin, chief executive of DEFEND ID, said in a statement.

The company was responding to allegations by a group of plaintiffs, led by former Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, that the three subsidiaries had sold assault rifles, handguns, ammunition, combat vehicles and other equipment to the Burmese military over the last decade, including possibly after the February 2021 coup.

In a complaint filed Monday with the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), Marzuki and rights activists said they had evidence that the Indonesian firms had transferred weapons and ammunition through a Myanmar-based company owned by the son of a junta-appointed minister. 

They petitioned the commission to investigate and refer the case to a human rights court if there was sufficient evidence of serious violations.

Indonesia, which holds this chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has been vocal in criticizing the Myanmar junta for its role in post-coup violence.

Indonesia has been at the forefront of ASEAN’s five-point regional consensus, a blueprint for peace in Myanmar that the regional bloc adopted shortly after the coup. It called for an immediate end to violence, dialogue among all parties, a special envoy to mediate, humanitarian assistance and a visit by the envoy to Myanmar. However, the junta has not implemented any of these steps so far.

Myanmar’s military seized power on Feb. 1, 2021, following a general election that it claimed was fraudulent. The coup provoked widespread protests and civil disobedience from the civilian population, as well as armed resistance from ethnic armed groups and militias.

The military responded with a brutal crackdown, killing more than 4,100 people and arresting more than 25,000 others, according to the Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The United Nations has warned that Myanmar is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, noting that millions of people are in need of aid and protection.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo inspects a firearm during a visit to the state-owned PT Pindad plant in Bandung, Java, Jan. 12, 2015. Credit: Rusman/Presidential Palace via AFP

DEFEND ID has five subsidiaries producing defense systems and equipment such as ships, aircraft, firearms, ammunition and explosives. 

In a separate statement, PAL Indonesia, which produces ships and submarines, said it “never cooperated with the Myanmar government or any business entities in the country,” adding its exports were carried out with the knowledge and support of the Indonesian government.

Pindad, meanwhile, said it had exported small-caliber ammunition to Myanmar in 2016 for military sport purposes as the country was participating in the ASEAN Armies Rifle Meet shooting competition. It also said it had never exported weapons or combat vehicles to Myanmar.

Both subsidiaries expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in Myanmar and support for human rights. They also said they were committed to complying with Indonesia’s foreign policy, which is based on active neutrality.

Marzuki did not immediately respond late Wednesday to BenarNews requests for comment regarding the manufacturers’ response earlier in the day. BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Fact-finding mission

In August 2019, while he then served as chairman of the U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar, Marzuki and his team called for an arms sales embargo against Naypyidaw. More than a dozen foreign companies, including state-owned companies in China, had been supplying weapons and other equipment used by the Myanmar military against ethnic minorities, the team reported that month.

Announcing the complaint earlier this week, Marzuki issued a statement saying: “The fact that defense equipment has been actively promoted after the genocidal campaign against the Rohingya and the 2021 coup is cause for serious concern and casts doubt on the Indonesian government’s willingness to comply with its obligations under international human rights law and humanitarian law.” 

On Wednesday, an analyst at the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies commented on the activists’ complaint.

“If the report about the weapons sales were true, the government could be seen as negligent,” Khairul Fahmi said. 

He noted that talks regarding arms sales to Myanmar had started before atrocities by the military, beginning in August 2017, forced more than 740,000 Muslim-minority Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

The analyst said the government could use a provision in a 2012 law on defense industries that allows MPs to prohibit or grant exceptions to the sale of defense equipment based on national strategic interests and foreign policy goals. In addition, he proposed that the government add a special clause in the arms contracts that specifies the weapons could not be used for domestic situations or internal security operations.

Muradi, a defense analyst at Padjadjaran University, said it was difficult to control how countries buying weapons from Indonesia use them because there are no specific rules.

He said most of the defense industry’s sales were to the domestic market, which accounted for 80 percent of its revenue while noting Indonesia has sought to increase its exports.

“But when we try to increase exports, we can’t impose our will on other countries. This is a dilemma. We can’t tell the buyer country’s government what they can or can’t do with the weapons,” said Muradi, who goes by one name.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.


This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Tria Dianti and Arie Firdaus for BenarNews.


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