Myanmar says Israel signed new military contract, then quickly denies it

After Foreign Ministry reprimand, ambassador to Israel retracts the statement.

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December 1, 2017 00:21
2 minute read.
Myanmar says Israel signed new military contract, then quickly denies it

Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 3, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Hours after telling Army Radio on Thursday that Israel signed an arms contract with Myanmar in recent months, Myanmar Ambassador to Israel Maung Maung Lynn retracted and apologized for his remarks.

“Israel does not sell arms to Myanmar,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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That statement also said that after the interview, Gilad Cohen, the ministry’s deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific, spoke with Maung Maung Lynn who, according to the statement, apologized and took back his comment.

The ministry said the ambassador was reprimanded for similar comments a few days ago.

The envoy said in the interview that a new contract was signed during the time he has been ambassador. Maung Maung Lynn took up his position in August 2016.

This is the second time in just over a month that the Foreign Ministry has issued a statement denying the sale of arms to Myanmar, a nation which human-rights groups are accusing of ethnic cleansing and human-rights violations – including arson, rape and massacres – after violence broke out in the northwestern state of Rakhine, triggering an exodus of some 400,000 Rohingya Muslims to southern Bangladesh.

In October, the ministry issued a statement saying it “vigorously denies false reports disseminated in the media regarding its alleged involvement in the tragedy in the Rakhine region of Myanmar.”

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That statement followed on the heels of a Haaretz report that said “Israel sold advanced weapons to Myanmar during its anti-Rohingya ethnic cleansing campaign,” and a story on Al Jazeera’s web site titled “Israel maintains robust arms trade with rogue regimes.”

The ministry statement said the policy of “supervising Israel’s defense exports is reviewed regularly according to various criteria, including the human rights situation in the target country, as well as the policy of the UN Security Council and other international bodies.”

Eitay Mack, a human-rights attorney who has been at the forefront of efforts to end all Israeli arms sales to Myanmar, does not believe these statements are sufficient. Following the interview with Maung Maung Lynn, he asked how the Israeli public can possibly decide who is right in the dispute between the ambassador and the ministry.

“Why is the Foreign Ministry unable to issue a simple and morally correct statement saying that Israel has completely frozen all security exports – including surveillance equipment and training that can assist the crimes being committed there – as long as the American and European arms embargo is in place,” he asked.

“Apparently, the Foreign Ministry is not interested in issuing a statement that may obligate it.”

In late September, the High Court of Justice issued a gag order on a decision it handed down regarding a petition to halt Israeli arms sales to Myanmar.

Mack was one of the petitioners.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which monitors arms sales, Israel sold patrol boats to Myanmar in 2015, and this was the only weaponry Israel has sold to the country since 2007.

China is the country’s main weapons supplier, selling 70% of the arms Myanmar buys, followed by Russia, which sells the country 19%, and Belarus, which provides some 4.5%, meaning those three countries sell Myanmar 93.5% of its weapons.

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