According to research by reporters with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, an Ilyushin-62M aircraft operated by private Belarusian air carrier Rada airlines departed Belgrade’s international airport in February 2021. Destined for Yangon, Myanmar, the aircraft was loaded with hundreds of Serbian-made 80mm rockets.
Myanmar has since tipped into civil war, off the back of an immediate outpouring of opposition to the military’s power grab on 1 February 2021. Despite support from major ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and hopes that the international community may intervene, protests have given way to widespread violence. At least 1,500 protesters have been killed by military forces, and another 12,000 people have been arrested.
In allowing the arms shipment to go ahead last February, Serbian authorities ignored reports of blatant human rights abuses taking place in Myanmar. This is despite a government requirement that authorities revoke any arms export permits where conditions in the destination country have changed, particularly where there is a risk that arms may be used to violate human rights.
In February 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council (OHCHR) adopted a resolution calling for the “immediate and unconditional release of all persons arbitrarily detained in Myanmar.” Speakers expressed concern over tightening censorship in Myanmar, and reports that security forces were violently cracking down on peaceful protesters in violation of international standards.
By June, the United Nations General Assembly had called on all member states to prevent “the flow of arms into Myanmar.”
Serbia was among the 119 member states to vote in favor of the resolution, despite the fact it had already issued at least four more arms export licenses for Myanmar. Of these, two were issued in March, one in April, and one in June. According to reporters, it is unclear whether these orders were ultimately filled.
According to Serbian trade ministry documents, Serbia had exported more than 2,500 80mm unguided rockets to Myanmar between January and February 2021. The order was valued at 4.75 million euros, and was exported by a state-owned intermediary, Jugoimport SDPR, involved in the import and export of defense equipment.
The Serbian government claims it has not issued any new licenses for arms exports to Myanmar since the current political crisis began.
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