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No sales of arms to Myanmar for 'a very long time': Vivian Balakrishnan

The Minister of Foreign Affairs referred to what his predecessor said in 2007 about Singapore's position in relation to supplying arms to Myanmar. 

No sales of arms to Myanmar for 'a very long time': Vivian Balakrishnan

Myanmar's military parade to mark the 72nd Armed Forces Day in the capital Naypyitaw, Myanmar Mar 27, 2017. (File photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)

SINGAPORE: Singapore has not sold military weapons to Myanmar for a very long time and has effected a ban on the sale of arms there, said Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 14).

The minister was replying to a question from MP Dennis Tap (WP-Hougang) on recent assertions in the report of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar which stated that Singapore functions as a “strategic transit point for potentially significant volumes of items” including raw materials that contribute towards military production by the Myanmar military.

Mr Tan asked whether the authorities checked Singapore companies, including those implicated by the report, to ensure compliance with prohibitions on the transfer of arms. 

In response to the report, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Jan 18 that Singapore does not authorise the transfer of arms or items with potential military application to Myanmar. The ministry noted that many assertions pertaining to Singapore relate to economic activities predating the February 2021 military coup. 

The report, released on Jan 16, identified Singapore among other countries which supposedly host companies that supply material to a Myanmar state-owned entity producing military weapons. 

Myanmar's army or junta seized power in February 2021 and the country has seen violence between soldiers and anti-coup rebels since. 

More than 2,000 people have been killed in crackdowns on dissent, according to local monitoring groups.

Reiterating the point on Tuesday, Dr Balakrishnan noted that many assertions made by the Special Advisory Council of Myanmar pertained to economic activities which predate the military coup. 

Dr Balakrishnan also quoted former Minster for Foreign Affairs George Yeo, who in 2007 answered a question on whether Singapore has supplied arms to Myanmar. 

Mr Yeo said then: "As far as defence sales are concerned, it is established policy of the Government not to divulge details publicly. Myanmar is not subject to any UN arms embargo. If there is any UN sanction against Myanmar, Singapore will of course abide by it. 

"Nevertheless, I can say that over the years defence sales to Myanmar have not been substantial and have always been carefully limited to items that are not suitable for countering civilian unrest.

"There have not been any defence sales to Myanmar in recent years and going forward we will continue to behave in a responsible manner." 

Referring to the quote, Dr Balakrishnan said: "Today, 16 years later, this position still stands. Singapore complies strictly with our international obligations on international arms sales and transfers. As well as UN sanctions and embargoes against any country."

The minister noted that Singapore voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution which called on UN member states to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar. 

"Whilst UN General Assembly resolutions are not strictly legally binding, nevertheless, the Government of Singapore has decided to prohibit the transfer of arms to Myanmar. We also decided not to authorise the transfer of dual-use items which have been assessed to have potential military application to Myanmar," Dr Balakrishnan added. 

Mr Tan then asked in supplementary questions what checks were carried out on companies following the assertions, and what were the measures in place to check companies for their compliance. 

Dr Balakrishnan replied: "What I can say looking at Mr George Yeo's response is that we've maintained that same position. Therefore, there have been no defence sales for a very long time, we're talking more than a decade, decade-and-a-half."

On the current regime, Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singapore has effected a ban on the transfer and sale of arms. 

"And that means we go through every submission of an import, export, and if clearly there are military items there, we're going to flag up a red flag. 

"But we've even gone beyond that. Where there are dual-use items civilian items which in our judgment would also pose risk to unarmed civilians. We will also flag a red flag."

Source: CNA/wt(rj)


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