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Myanmar civil society organization Blood Money has launched a campaign to stop the global sale of aviation fuel to the country’s junta, citing the deadly impact of military airstrikes on the civilian population.

In recent months, the military has increasingly turned to air power after suffering a number of losses on the ground in its fight against rebel groups around the country, often with devastating effect to communities caught in the crossfire.

Since the February 2021 coup d’etat until the end of December 2023, the military carried out more than 1,650 airstrikes, killing nearly 1,000 people and injuring more than 900, according to data from the Nyan Lin Thay research group. Around 30 hospitals and 75 schools were damaged in the attacks, the group said.

Blood Money kicked off its “Global Campaign” on March 10, urging individuals and organizations at home and abroad to join its fight to end aviation fuel sales to the junta.

A leading organizer of the campaign said he expects it will have a major effect on the junta’s ability to wage war. But he acknowledged that it would "have a gradual impact instead of immediate effect,” speaking to RFA on condition that he only be identified as “Mike” due to security concerns.

In addition to lobbying efforts to stem the flow of fuel to the junta, Mike said Blood Money will also work with local communities to prevent casualties from airstrikes.

The group joins efforts to ban fuel sales to the junta by the shadow National Unity Government, or NUG, whose spokesman Kyaw Zaw told RFA it hopes to spearhead a binding resolution at the United Nations Security Council.

"In addition to [targeting] the companies importing jet fuel to Myanmar, we are trying to put pressure on companies that sell insurance for jet fuel cargo vessels shipping to Myanmar,” he said.

Data compiled by RFA found that between the coup and the end of January this year, airstrikes and artillery attacks killed 1,429 people and injured 2,641 others. The figures include 149 civilians killed and 267 injured in January alone.

Attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesman Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment on the campaign went unanswered Thursday. The junta has said it does not intentionally target civilians.

Air force ‘crucial’ for junta

On Aug. 23, 2023, the United States and Britain announced sanctions against companies that import jet fuel to the junta, but the military has continued to carry out airstrikes on a near-daily basis.

London-based rights group Amnesty International announced on Jan. 30 that its researchers had documented new ways that the junta is skirting sanctions. The group said that aviation fuel was shipped directly from Vietnam to Myanmar at least seven times last year.

People protest the sale of aviation fuel to the Myanmar junta, in Monywa township, Sagaing region, on March 11, 2024. Blurring in photo is from source. (Blood Money)
People protest the sale of aviation fuel to the Myanmar junta, in Monywa township, Sagaing region, on March 11, 2024. Blurring in photo is from source. (Blood Money)

Khin Ohnmar, the founder of Progress Voice, which is participating in Blood Money’s campaign, said that a shift in policy by governments and international bodies, such as the U.N. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,or ASEAN, is “vital for the movement to have effect.”

“We need to make clear their responsibilities in terms of political will and international law,” she said.

Other observers said that targeting fuel shipments will both help end the junta’s harming of civilians and loosen its grip on power.

“The air force is really crucial for the military regime, so [this] is a good targeted campaign," said Thomas Kean, the International Crisis Group's Brussels-based senior consultant on Myanmar.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that ending fuel sales entirely will be difficult, due to nations such as Russia, China, Thailand, and India, which are unwilling to impose sanctions on the junta.

In February 2022, former U.S. Rep. Tom Andrews, who serves as U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in a report to the U.N. Security Council that countries should stop selling arms to the junta, citing a brutal crackdown on civilians since the coup.

The report called out permanent Security Council members China and Russia, as well as India, Belarus, Ukraine, Israel, Serbia, Pakistan and South Korea, for selling the weapons, which Andrews said are almost certainly being used by the military to kill innocent people.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Burmese.