[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 16 July 2007, 00:55 GMT 01:55 UK
Burma embargoes fail to bite
Members of the Women's League of Burma hold placards at a protest to oppose the detention of Burmese democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Delhi, India, on 18 June 2007
Human rights and economic interest do not always go hand in hand

A new report says technology from as many as six European Union countries is reaching Burma, despite an EU arms embargo.

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent assesses how embargoes are made - and broken - and our Asia correspondent writes on how Burma is coping with Western sanctions.


Arms embargoes are, surprisingly, often ineffective tools.

A case in point is raised by the latest study from a number of European human rights groups, including Amnesty International.

The report investigates reports that India plans to sell a number of light helicopters to Burma. These helicopters contain a significant amount of European technology.

The European Union, of course, has an arms embargo against Burma.


Most computers will open this document automatically, but you may need Adobe Reader
So how can it be - if the reports are true - that India can legally sell a jointly-developed helicopter to Burma (also known as Myanmar) that is in large part made up of European or US technology?

The aircraft in question is the Advanced Light Helicopter - or ALH - as it is known, which is manufactured in India.

It can be used for a variety of tasks.

It has an anti-tank role but can also be used for counter-insurgency operations and can be equipped with both rockets and a 20mm gun.

Amnesty concludes that the existing legislative framework is clearly inadequate

Unarmed versions can be used for logistical support and observation.

The ALH is built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited - whose helicopter division has in the past produced machines based on French designs.

The ALH has been developed in association with Eurocopter Deutschland and the first prototype flew in 1992.

Though built in India, much of its technology is foreign including vital systems like the engine, rotor blades, hydraulics, cockpit displays and so on.

The Amnesty report says that "at least 29 companies in nine countries across four continents have been involved with the development, licensed production, or supply of components or munitions for the ALH".

Ten of these companies are based in six European Union states.

Complicated arrangements

This illustrates the complexity of the international arms trade which now involves co-operation and technology transfer as much as simple nation-to-nation sales.

But if there is a European arms embargo against Burma how can European technology contained in an Indian helicopter escape the sanctions?

The answer, according to Amnesty, lies in the detail of each country's arms export regulations.

A Burmese girl waits for her father's boat to come to shore along the Ayeryarwady river  in Mandalay in February 2007.
Sanctions have had an economic impact on the poor
In a number of countries there is no legally-binding requirement to give an undertaking not to re-export the weapons or technology being supplied.

This represents a huge loophole in efforts to apply arms embargoes - made even more complicated by the collaborative nature of the arms trade that the ALH project so well illustrates.

Amnesty concludes that the existing legislative framework is "clearly inadequate".

It says that "the efficacy of embargoes is dependent upon the robustness of the general EU arms transfer control regimes".

It is arguing that in a globalised world, with collaborative projects and technology sharing very much the name of the game, arms export regulations need to be much more restrictive.

Origin of parts


For a snapshot of how Burma's military rulers are coping with western sanctions, linger at the bar of any major hotel in Rangoon.

True, you will not hear many American accents.

But look around you - Russian arms dealers, South Korean and French oilmen, Singaporean consultants and Chinese bankers are all mingling over cocktails with their Burmese counterparts.

In the lobby, crowds of German and Italian tourists head out to explore the city's sumptuous temples and neglected backstreets.

Some commentators argue that Europe and America should move away from sanctions and towards a policy of engagement with the military authorities.

Almost 20 years after the European Union and the United States first began to impose sanctions on Burma in the hope of persuading the military to relinquish power, the generals who rule this brutalised, impoverished country are finding plenty of alternative sources of investment.

Burma's two giant neighbours, China and India, are leading the way. Both are competing for influence here - diplomatic, military and economic.

Human rights issues appear to be a low priority.

Rather, they want access to Burma's giant off-shore gas fields, and to its natural resources - timber and minerals.

Chinese tourists and traders are pouring in to cities like Mandalay, buying up huge chunks of real estate.

Many other countries are fighting for their share of the spoils.

Neighbouring Thailand has signed hydro-electric deals.

Russia recently agreed to build the generals a nuclear reactor.

And North Korea appears to be interested in arms deals.

Impact - no concessions

As for Europe - over the years the EU's arms and trade embargoes have been steadily tightened and formalised in response to the military government's escalating human rights abuses.

The EU has a ban on arms exports to Burma, a limited investment ban, and a visa ban for senior officials and their families.

Burma's military leader Than Shwe at a parade in March 2007
Burma's military government has shown no signs of yielding
But campaigners say these measures are weak and ineffectual, and fail to prevent, for example, France's Total oil company from doing business with the generals. The US's position is much tougher.

Since 1997, all new investment in Burma has been banned.

There is no doubt that this has had a substantial economic impact.

But it has failed to produce any political concessions from the government.

Some commentators argue that Europe and America should move away from sanctions and towards a policy of engagement with the military authorities.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific