(Mizzima) - Germany with the assistance of Italy will push to have Burma sanction significantly weakened when the European Union’s Burma sanctions policy comes up for yearly review in April, according to the London-based advocacy organization Burma Campaign UK.
Burma Campaign UK executive director Mark Farmaner told Mizzima, ‘Germany’s approach to Burma is shameful and unprincipled. They are solely interested in commercial opportunities in Burma and only pay lip-service to human rights issues’.
Farmaner and his fellow Burma activists across Europe aren’t alone in their assessment that Germany wants to lift sanctions against Burma.
A leaked US diplomatic cable disclosed by the Wikileaks website this month reveals that in December 2009 officials from the US state department were informed by their counterpart from the UK that three EU nations, in particular Italy, Spain and Germany were advocating that the EU begin ‘re-engagement’ with the Burmese military regime.
In the cable, Nigel Boud from the UK foreign office’s Asia section informed the Americans that while the UK supported sanctions, Germany and some other EU member states had ‘heard what they wanted to hear’ about the situation in Burma and therefore ‘have subsequently started discussions within the EU about relaxing the current measures’, made in reference to the EU’s targeted financial sanctions and EU-wide travel ban for the senior members of the military regime, their family members and their cronies.
Germany’s apparent renewed push to weaken the EU’s targeted sanctions against Burma comes in spite of explosive allegations made by a military defector last year that the Burmese regime used sophisticated equipment imported from Germany to advance both a top-secret rocket development program and an equally clandestine nuclear programme.
In a Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) documentary on Burma’s weapons programme that aired last year on Al Jazeera, Major Sai Thein Win, a former senior scientist in the Burmese military, detailed how the firm Deckel Maho Gildemeister (DMG) sent engineers to assist with the installation of specialized imported machinery in Burmese military-owned factories.
Sai Thein Win said DMG machinery was designed to make precision metal parts in the manufacturing of rocket and missile parts. In addition to DMG, the Burmese military had also bought equipment from the German firm Trumpf, including a specialized laser cutting machine designed to cut sheet metal quickly. The military engineer-turned-whistleblower escaped Burma with pages of documents and photographs of German engineers installing the equipment.
Diplomats from the German embassy in Rangoon visited two of the factories where the machinery was being used in 2007, 2008 and again in 2009, according to the DVD report.
Although Sai Thein Win’s testimony and evidence that the equipment was being used for non-civilian purposes was independently verified by former IAEA inspector Bob Kelley, it’s unclear if the German government has done anything to restrict the sale of similar weapon-related technology in thefuture.
A US diplomatic cable from 2009 marked ‘confidential’ but disclosed by Wikileaks and the Guardian newspaper in Decembers suggested that US authorities were concerned enough about the German exports to Burma that the issue was a topic of discussion between the state department and the German government in July 2009.
The cable revealed that during her time as Berlin Ambassador Susan Burk, America’s special representative for nuclear non-proliferation, spoke with German officials regarding ‘concerns about Myanmar’s nuclear intentions’. The cable which also summarizes her discussions with officials in Paris and London revealed that Berlin was the only place during her European tour where she specifically spoke about the Burmese nuclear issue.
The EU-wide sanctions, while barring European business dealings with some of the junta’s blacklisted cronies and their black listed banks, have not prevented many European firms from conducting business in Burma.
Burma’s lucrative natural resource industry, in which France’s Total has a major stake in the offshore gas sector, is largely exempted from the sanctions.
Loopholes in the sanctions have left space for several German firms also to participate in Burma’s extractives sector including FOSCE-Lorentzenstr, an engineering firm that participated in dam construction along the Upper Paunglaung river. Another German firm, Hannover Re, self-described as ‘one of the leading reinsurance groups in the world’ which deals with marine, aviation and other reinsurance programs designed for businesses, has a subsidiary that operates in Burma.
Despite the existence of EU sanctions, Germany is still a sizable trading partner with Burma. In December 2009, Myint Soe, the joint secretary of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told The Myanmar Times, ‘Among the European nations, Germany is one of our larger trading partners, even considering the sanctions.’
Last December the state-backed 7 Day News reported that Germany was Burma’s biggest trading partner in Europe during the period April-December 2010.
Enforcement of the EU sanctions that do exist is largely left up to member nations who may or not be interested in pursuing the matter. After the DVB allegations that German equipment was being used for military use first appeared, the German foreign ministry has repeatedly refused media requests.
Germany’s stance towards Burma is in sharp contrast with its statementw about Iran, the subject of numerous press releases issued by Germany’s ministry of Foreign Affairs over the past two years. The present German foreign minister and his predecessor frequently spoke out againt Iran’s alleged nuclear program and the government has supported continued sanctions against Tehran.
It remains to be seen whether Germany will have its way and the EU Burma sanctions are weakened or ended completely.
Mark Farmaner of the UK Campaign claims the government of Angela Merkel in Berlin is not concerned with the plight of the Burmese people. According to Farmaner, “If they really cared about ordinary people, they would increase their aid to humanitarian projects in Burma, which is tiny. Germany sets the bar for progress in Burma so low you have to dig down to find it.”
Despite repeated requests, the German Foreign Office did not provide comment for this story.