Amnesty: Fuel suppliers aiding Myanmar attacks on civilians

BANGKOK (AP) — Amnesty International is urging suppliers of aviation fuel to Myanmar to suspend their shipments to prevent the military from using them to conduct an increasing number of air attacks on civilian targets.

In a report released Thursday, the London-based rights group documented diversion of aviation fuel that is supposed to be used only for civilian travel and transport to the military. It also called on refiners, shipping companies and others in the aviation fuel supply chain to stop shipments until they can ensure they won’t be diverted to military use.

The report, carried out in collaboration with the underground activist organization Justice for Myanmar, followed news of air strikes that have killed dozens of civilians not engaged in fighting the military-controlled government following the army’s February 2021 ouster of an elected government.

“These air strikes have devastated families, terrorized civilians, killed and maimed victims. But if the planes can’t fuel up, they can’t fly out and wreak havoc. Today 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,” Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard said in a statement.

“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, crimes against humanity and other grave human rights violations.”

Military air strikes killed as many as 80 people, including singers and musicians, attending an anniversary celebration last month of the Kachin ethnic minority’s main political organization. The casualties appeared to be the most in a single air attack since the military seized power.

Civilians from the Karen ethnic minority in eastern Myanmar were also killed in air attacks earlier this year.

Ethnic minorities have been fighting for autonomy for decades, but nationwide anti-government resistance has increased markedly with the formation of an armed pro-democracy movement opposing the military takeover.

Air attacks on schools, villages and camps of people who have fled the fighting have destroyed homes, schools, monasteries and other civilian infrastructure. The military says such attacks are needed to fight “terrorist” groups.

Human rights advocates have been lobbying governments to impose arms embargoes and cut off supplies of fuel that might be diverted for military purposes. Opponents of such measures say that blocking aviation fuel supplies would interfere with civilian travel and deliveries of humanitarian aid.

The Amnesty International report outlined examples of how fuel delivered to Myanmar’s Thilawa port, near its biggest city, Yangon, was diverted to military use despite pledges that it was only to be used by civilian aircraft.

It said at least eight shipments of Jet A-1 fuel were unloaded at Thilawa between February 2021 and Sept. 17 of this year. In some cases, letters documented that the shipments were for use by military aircraft. In others, civilian and military aircraft were supplied by the same storage facilities.

Most of the companies that Amnesty International urged to embargo fuel shipments replied to the group’s request for comment by saying they had controls in place to prevent supplying the military with fuel.

Singapore-based Puma Energy Co., the company handling most aviation fuel supplies to Myanmar, suspended its business there after the military takeover, leaving operations to its local partner. Last month, it announced it would sell its share of the business to a locally owned company.

In a letter to Amnesty International included in its report, Puma said the details provided by the rights group contributed to its review of its Myanmar investment, which “ultimately led to the decision to exit Myanmar.” A spokesperson for Puma, Matt Willey, noted Thursday in an email to The Associated Press that even before being contacted by Amnesty International, the company had commissioned an independent human rights impact assessment whose recommendations also led to the decision to fully leave Myanmar. Puma is largely owned by Singapore-based global commodity trading giant Trafigura.

Puma said it had not sold or distributed any fuel to the Myanmar air force since the military takeover and put in place controls to prevent such sales, but became aware of incidents in which the air force had managed to breach such controls.

Amnesty International said its report “draws on a wide range of sources, including leaked company documents, corporate filings, vessel-tracking data, satellite imagery, public records, and exclusive interviews with defectors from the Myanmar Air Force and sources close to Puma Energy.”

In September, a United Nations-appointed human rights expert called for governments and companies to coordinate efforts to cut off the military-led government from its sources of revenue and weapons, saying life in the Southeast Asian nation has become a “living hell” for many since the generals seized power.

Tom Andrews, in Geneva to deliver an annual report on Myanmar to the U.N. Human Rights Council, told reporters that while many countries have been imposing sanctions on individuals, military entities, financial institutions and energy companies, what is needed is “coordinated action.”

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