The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar sent a letter of concern to the government of the Republic of Korea to invite the Ambassador of Myanmar to the arms promotion event
The South Korean government must apologize to the Myanmar people and play a responsible role in resolving the crisis in Myanmar
It was recently confirmed that the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar sent a fact-finding letter (AL KOR 4/2023) to the government of the Republic of Korea on June 5 regarding the invitation of the Ambassador of Myanmar to the Republic of Korea to an arms export promotion event held on 2 May 2023. This follows a letter sent on May 17 by the Korean Civil Society in Support of Democracy in Myanmar (106 organizations nationwide) to the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar concerning irresponsible and inappropriate actions by the South Korean government.
On May 2, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted diplomats from 18 countries, including major defense destinations to promote domestic weapons at the 8th Maneuver Division. During the event, the K2 Black Panther tank, the K21 infantry fighting vehicle, and the K9 self-propelled howitzer were demonstrated and ridden. Myanmar’s Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Thant Sin, attended the event and rode the K2 tank. It was deemed highly inappropriate to invite the ambassador of Myanmar who is cooperating with the Myanmar military to the event to experience the ride in the name of expanding “K-defense” exports. Subsequently, the Korean Civil Society in Support of Democracy in Myanmar issued at the time a statement and held a press conference to condemn the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ careless and irresponsible attitude. They also demanded the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar to express his concerns to the South Korean government and to reiterate the lack of implementation of recommendations following his visit to South Korea last November.
According to the published letter, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Thomas Andrews expressed his concerts about a reported photo of Myanmar’s Ambassador Thant Sin raising his hand atop a K2 tank during the arms export event and denounced that his participation in the event “legitimizes an illegal and brutal military junta and raises doubts about the Republic of Korea’s policy concerning arms transfers to the Myanmar military”. He emphasized that Thant Sin who serves as ambassador to the Republic of Korea is in the service of the State Administration Council (SAC), an illegal and illegitimate military junta. He further noted that the SAC lacks democratic and constitutional legitimacy and should not be recognized as the government of Myanmar and that he had previously urged governments to diplomatically isolate the SAC and refrain from any actions that could give it legitimacy. He recalled that it had only been a month since the military launched a deadly airstrike on a ceremony opening a civilian administration office associated with the National Unity Government (NUG) in Sagaing Region, killing approximately 170 people including dozens of children and women. He hereby urged the government to “refrain from taking actions that support or legitimize the Myanmar junta” and emphasized that hopefully South Korea “will stand with the people of Myanmar who are fighting for a democratic future.”
In response to the letter from the UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar requesting additional information on the arms export promotion event, the Government of the Republic of Korea affirmed that “The event is aimed at showcasing Korea’s defense products, and diplomatic corps from the America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia including ASEAN countries were invited” and that “The invitation letters were transmitted to all ASEAN countries in accordance with established practice, and Ambassador Thant Sin was invited as he is one of the ambassadors to the Republic of Korea”. It further noted, “The invitation does not mean any intention to grant arms transfers to Myanmar military or other entities in Myanmar”. It stressed that the government’s countermeasures announced after the coup in Myanmar are being strictly implemented. This includes suspending new exchanges and cooperation in defense and security with Myanmar and not permitting the export of military supplies to Myanmar. The government also reaffirmed its previous position stating that “Going forward, it will continue its efforts to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the Myanmar crisis in close cooperation with the international community”.
The letter from the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar to the Government of the Republic of Korea clearly demonstrates the international community’s deep concern over the invitation of inhumane war crime groups to an arms export promotion event while the military’s brutal massacres continue. Though Myanmar is a member of ASEAN, it has not been able to attend meetings organized by ASEAN since the coup, and the South Korean government is not unaware of this. The South Korean government, which has invited the Myanmar ambassador to ride a K2 tank at an arms exports promotion event, owes a sincere apology to the people of Myanmar who are being killed, detained, and tortured by the Myanmar military. The South Korean government must act beyond hollow words and make substantial and active efforts to peacefully resolve the crisis in Myanmar. Irresponsible behavior such as this arms export promotion must never be repeated.
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