The sources told The Irrawaddy that the Burmese army—known as the “Tatmadaw”—had equipped all frontline battalions with MA1, MA2, MA3 or MA4 automatic assault rifles.
According to a weapons Web site, securityarms.com, the MA series was manufactured with the help of arms contractor Israeli Military Industries, and was designed similar to the Israeli Galil rifle.
The weapons are expected to be used in conflicts with ethnic rebel groups, in particular the Karen National Union, as the Tatmadaw seeks to extinguish the country’s 60-year-plus insurgency. The Burmese armed forces have one of the world’s most notorious records for atrocities and human rights abuses, such as killing civilians, raping women and conscripting children.
Since the 1950s, the Tatmadaw has traditionally employed German-made G-3 weapons. However, the G-3 assault rifle was considered too heavy for use in jungle warfare and, as the Burmese generals had endured decades of conflict with ethnic groups in Burma’s mountainous border regions, they began manufacture of the MA series in 2002, presumably after signing a license agreement with Israel Military Industries.
The MA1 and MA2 assault rifles are shorter and lighter than the G3, but not as powerful, said the sources.
The MA3 is an assault carbine, basically an MA1 with a side-folding stock, and the MA4 is a grenadier weapon, essentially an MA1 equipped with a single-shot grenade launcher.
Sources told The Irrawaddy that the weapons were manufactured at several factories in Burma, but the main factory is reportedly called Ka Pa Sa No 1, and is situated near Rangoon’s Inya Lake.
Sai Sheng Murng, the deputy spokesman of the rebel Shan State Army-South (SSA), said, “The MA1 and MA2 assault rifles are not heavy, so they are good for carrying to the frontlines. But they are not powerful like the G-3.”
“The MA1s and MA2s are similar to our M16s. In fact, we can use their ammunition in our M16 rifles, but they cannot use our ammunition in their rifles,” he said.
The Burmese army is one of the most battle-hardened forces in Asia, having fought almost continuously against ethnic insurgents and communist guerillas for more than six decades.
However, following the brutal suppression of student-led demonstrations in 1988, the United States and later the European Union imposed an arms embargo on the Burmese regime.
At the time, Burmese democracy activists and international sympathizers lobbied the West German government to prevent sales of G-3 weapons from the Fritz Werner arms manufacturing company going to the Burmese junta.
The German arms manufacturers registered themselves in Burma in the 1990s as Myanmar Fritz Werner Industries Co Ltd, an electrical and electronics company.
However, the photograph of a Japanese journalist, Kenji Nagai, being shot during protests in 2007 by a Burmese soldier holding what would appear to be a G-3 rifle, raised doubts as to whether local production of the German assault rifle was ongoing.
Despite the Western arms embargo, the Burmese military regime has no shortage of arms suppliers—Israel, Russia, Ukraine and China are reportedly the main players.
Meanwhile, recent reports have indicated that Burma has purchased nuclear material from North Korea and harbors ambitions of creating a nuclear arsenal.