The Myanmar military has been accused of using Russian-made Yak-130 aircraft with ground attack capability against civilians, as it seeks to stamp out opposition to its rule.
Myanmar Witness, a London-based group that collects evidence of rights abuses in Myanmar, says it was able to verify open-source investigations on several occasions in which unguided rockets and 23mm cannons had been used in built-up areas.
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“Myanmar Witness has verified the repeated deployment of the Yak-130 – a sophisticated, Russian manufactured, two-seat jet trainer with a documented ground attack capability – in Myanmar,” Myanmar Witness said in its report, which was released on Friday. “During this investigation, credible reports and geolocation have revealed the use of the Yak-130 within populated, civilian areas.”
Among the more recent incidents, video shared on Facebook last month showed at least one Yak-130 performing two passes and launching several salvos of unguided rockets towards the ground. A second video showed at least one Yak-130 performing at least five passes and firing about 18 salvos of unguided rockets.
The attacks were said to have taken place south of Myawaddy township in southeastern Karen state, where ethnic armed groups have long been fighting for autonomy and have been providing training and support to civilian militias established to fight back against the February 2021 coup.
Myanmar Witness geolocated the two videos and said they were filmed just 200 metres from the Thailand-Myanmar border.
It also verified an incident in February 2022, when at least one Yak-130 was identified taking part in an operation west of Loikaw, in Kayah state, also on the Thai border in the east.
“The indiscriminate employment of sophisticated attack aircraft, particularly when employed in coordination with other military aircraft, is in stark contrast to the means and methods employed by those groups who are viewed as insurgents by the Myanmar military,” the report said.
Myanmar was plunged into crisis in February 2021 when army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The coup prompted mass protests and an outpouring of anger to which the military has responded with force. More than 2,000 people have been killed in the crackdown, while nearly 700,000 have been forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
Russia is a crucial supplier of weapons and equipment to the Myanmar military and Min Aung Hlaing was in Moscow earlier this month in pursuit of further deals.
Russia delivered 12 aircraft to Myanmar between 2015 and 2019, when it was under a civilian administration, but in December last year six more jets were unveiled at the Meiktila air force base, Myanmar Witness said.
In March, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom blacklisted senior military officials, including the newly appointed chief of the air force, over the military’s escalating violence. The sanctions also targeted those sourcing and supplying weapons to the air force.
Rights groups have been pressing the international community to widen sanctions and impose an embargo on sales of jet fuel to Myanmar because of the military’s repeated air attacks on civilian populations.
Myanmar has to import all its aviation fuel whether for civilian or military purposes.