South Korea says Myanmar arms ban in place after U.N. concern

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Wednesday its ban on the sale of arms to Myanmar remained in place even though it had invited an envoy appointed by its military rulers to an event promoting the sale of weapons.

Thomas Andrews, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, had expressed “extreme concern” that the Myanmar ambassador, Thant Sin, attended the event hosted by South Korea’s foreign ministry in May, saying it had legitimised the junta and raised doubts about South Korea’s ban.

Myanmar has been in crisis since the military ousted an elected government led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021, with most Western governments isolating the generals and cutting off arms sales but others, including Russia and China, maintaining close relations.

“Our government has been still strictly implementing countermeasures against Myanmar since they were announced shortly after the outbreak of the crisis, including a ban on exports of military supplies, and there is no change in this position,” the South Korean ministry said in a statement.

Andrews had said in a letter to South Korea’s diplomatic mission in Geneva that the envoy’s “participation in the event legitimises an illegal and brutal military junta”.

The invitation to Thant Sin also “raises doubts” about South Korea’s ban on arms exports to Myanmar and could imply its intention to permit the sale, despite the junta’s responsibility for attacks on civilians, Andrews said.

South Korea’s Geneva-based diplomatic mission said last month the invitation was sent to all countries in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in line with “established practice” and was “absolutely unrelated” to its policy towards Myanmar’s military.

Close U.S. ally South Korea had not conducted any arms transactions with Myanmar since 2019 but operates major development projects there.

Andrews, following a visit to South Korea in November, urged it to take even stronger action to deny the Myanmar junta legitimacy and help reverse the crisis.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; editing by Robert Birsel)