Fuel suppliers aiding Myanmar attacks on civilians: Amnesty

Military air strikes killed as many as 80 people, including singers and musicians, attending an anniversary celebration last month of the Kachin ethnic minority's main political organisation

November 03, 2022 04:44 pm | Updated November 07, 2022 12:49 am IST - Bangkok

Debris and soot cover the floor of a middle school in Let Yet Kone village in Tabayin township in the Sagaing region of Myanmar on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, the day after an air strike hit the school. The attack killed a number of adults and children, according to a school administrator and volunteers to assist displaced people. AP

Debris and soot cover the floor of a middle school in Let Yet Kone village in Tabayin township in the Sagaing region of Myanmar on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, the day after an air strike hit the school. The attack killed a number of adults and children, according to a school administrator and volunteers to assist displaced people. AP | Photo Credit: AP

Amnesty International is urging suppliers of aviation fuel to Myanmar to suspend such shipments to prevent the military from using them to conduct air attacks on civilian targets as the number of bombings has increased.

In a report released on Thursday, the London-based rights group documented the diversion of aviation fuel that is supposed to be used only for civilian travel and transport to the military.

It also called on refiners, shipping companies, and others in the aviation fuel supply chain to stop shipments until they can ensure they won't be diverted to military use.

The report, carried out in collaboration with the underground activist organisation Justice for Myanmar, followed news of air strikes that have killed dozens of people not engaged in fighting the military-controlled government following the army's February 2021 ouster of Myanmar's elected government.

“These air strikes have devastated families, terrorised civilians, killed and maimed victims. But if the planes can't fuel up, they can't fly out and wreak havoc. Today we are calling on suppliers, shipping agents, vessel owners, and maritime insurers to withdraw from a supply chain that is benefiting the Myanmar Air Force,” Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard said in a prepared statement.

“There can be no justification for participating in the supply of aviation fuel to a military that has a flagrant contempt for human rights and has been repeatedly accused of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave human rights violations.”

Military air strikes killed as many as 80 people, including singers and musicians, attending an anniversary celebration last month of the Kachin ethnic minority's main political organisation.

The casualties appeared to be the most in a single air attack since the military seized power.

Civilians from the Karen ethnic minority in eastern Myanmar were also killed in air attacks earlier this year.

Ethnic minorities have been fighting for autonomy for decades, but nationwide anti-government resistance has increased markedly with the formation of an armed pro-democracy movement opposing the military takeover.

Air attacks on schools, villages and camps of people who have fled the fighting have destroyed homes, schools, monasteries and other civilian infrastructure.

The military says such attacks are needed to fight “terrorist" groups.

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Human rights advocates have been lobbying governments to impose arms embargoes and cut off supplies of fuel that might be diverted for military purposes.

Opponents of such measures say that blocking aviation fuel supplies would interfere with civilian travel and deliveries of humanitarian aid.

The Amnesty report outlined examples of how fuel delivered to Myanmar's Thilawa port, near its biggest city Yangon, was diverted to military use despite pledges that it was only to be used by civilian aircraft.

It said at least eight shipments of Jet A-1 fuel were unloaded at Thilawa between February 2021 and September 17 of this year.

In some cases, letters documented that the shipments were due for use by military aircraft. In others, civilian and military aircraft were supplied by the same storage facilities.

Most of the companies involved in the aviation fuel supply chain that Amnesty International urged to observe an embargo on shipments replied to the group's request for comment by saying they had controls in place to prevent supplying the military with fuel.

Singapore-based Puma Energy Co., the company handling most aviation fuel supplies to Myanmar, suspended its business there after the military takeover, leaving operations to its local partner.

Last month, it announced it would sell its share of the business to a locally owned company.

In a letter to Amnesty International included in its report, Puma said the details the right group provided contributed to its review of its Myanmar investment, which “ultimately led to the decision to exit Myanmar."

Puma is largely owned by Singapore-based global commodity trading giant Trafigura.

Puma said it had not sold or distributed any fuel to the Myanmar Air Force since the military takeover and put in place controls to prevent such sales, but became aware of incidents where the air force had managed to breach such controls.

Amnesty said its report “draws on a wide range of sources, including leaked company documents, corporate filings, vessel-tracking data, satellite imagery, public records, and exclusive interviews with defectors from the Myanmar Air Force and sources close to Puma Energy..”

In September, a United Nations-appointed human rights expert called for governments and companies to coordinate efforts to cut off the military-led government of Myanmar from its sources of revenue and weapons, saying life in the Southeast Asian nation has become a “living hell” for many since the generals seized power last year.

Tom Andrews, in Geneva to deliver his annual report on Myanmar to the U.N. Human Rights Council, told reporters that while many countries have been imposing sanctions on individuals, military entities, financial institutions, and energy companies, what is needed is “coordinated action.”

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