Myanmar military diverts civilian jet fuel to air force: Amnesty

Amnesty International calls on countries and companies to stop the supply of aviation fuel to Myanmar’s military rulers.

Myanmar Air Force Jet fighters drop bombs during military exercises in 2018, in the Ayeyarwaddy delta region, Myanmar [File: Lynn Bo Bo/pool/AP]
Myanmar Air Force jet fighters drop bombs during military exercises in 2018 in the Irrawaddy delta region of Myanmar [File: Lynn Bo Bo/pool/AP]

Amnesty International has called on suppliers of aviation fuel to suspend shipments to Myanmar to prevent the military government from using such supplies to conduct air attacks on civilian targets.

Countries and fuel companies must cease the supply of aviation fuel to Myanmar as shipments sent for civilian aircraft usage are being diverted to the military, whose air force has been linked to war crimes, Amnesty International said in a new report released on Thursday.

“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,” Amnesty’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard said.

“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,” Callamard said.

“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,” she said.

Since the military seized power in Myanmar in February 2021, more than 2,300 civilians have been killed by military forces, including those targeted in air raids.

During its research, Amnesty said that it had documented 16 air attacks that took place between March 2021 and August 2022 in Kayah, Kayin and Chin states as well as in Sagaing region.

The air attacks killed at least 15 civilians, injured at least 36 others, and destroyed homes, religious buildings, schools, health facilities and a camp for displaced people.

In two of the air attacks, the Myanmar military used cluster munitions, which are banned internationally due to the indiscriminate nature of such weapons.

Amnesty also said it had linked four military air bases – Hmawbi, Magway, Tada-U and Taungoo – to attacks that amounted to war crimes.

“In the vast majority of these documented cases, only civilians appear to have been present at the location of the strike at the time of the attack,” Amnesty said.

Diverting civilian fuel supplies

In the report, the human rights group tracked eight shipments of aviation fuel that arrived at Thilawa port terminal, located outside the country’s commercial capital, Yangon, between February 2021 and September this year.

Some of the shipments were delivered to airports that shared refuelling facilities with nearby military bases, Amnesty said, citing satellite data and leaked documents.

At least two of the eight fuel shipments – from PetroChina-owned Singapore Petroleum Company and Thai Oil – were delivered directly to the military, Amnesty claimed, citing customs data and letters detailing the consignments.

A Myanmar affiliate of oil giant Puma Energy also paid a local firm to transport fuel to a military-controlled storage facility for jet fuel, Amnesty said.

Using flight tracking data and interviews with ex-military personnel, Amnesty said it had documented air attacks launched from two air bases typically supplied by that storage facility during the research period.

Some of the air strikes by aircraft originating from the two bases constituted war crimes, Amnesty said.

In July, Myanmar Witness – a London-based group that collects evidence of rights abuses – said it had verified the deployment of Russian-made Yak-130 aircraft with ground attack capability against civilians in Myanmar. The Russian-built jets had used unguided rockets and 23mm cannons against targets in built-up areas.

Air attacks by Myanmar’s military last month in the country’s northern Kachin state killed more than 60 people – and possibly as many as 80 – most of whom were civilians attending a celebration and musical concert held by a major ethnic rebel group.

Singapore Petroleum Company, Rosneft, Chevron and Thai Oil, which all provided fuel during Amnesty International’s research period, told the rights group they believed they “had provided aviation fuel for civilian purposes only”, the report said.

Following the investigation – conducted with activist group Justice For Myanmar – Amnesty said that Thai Oil and a shipping agent and subsidiary of Norwegian maritime group Wilhelmsen had announced they would halt all business involving aviation fuel in Myanmar.

Amnesty also said that Puma Energy had written to say it had received reports that the military had been able to “breach controls that were put in place to maintain the segregation of civilian supply”. The company cited this breach as the reason for its departure from Myanmar – on a date that has yet to be announced.

Amnesty called on all companies involved in the Myanmar supply chain to “immediately suspend the direct and indirect supply, sale, and transfer, including transit, trans-shipment and brokering of aviation fuel”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies