Thai Banks Are the Top Suppliers of Financial Services to Myanmar’s Military, UN Expert Says

FILE - Myanmar Air Force Jet fighters drop bombs during military exercises Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, in Ayeyarwaddy delta region, Myanmar. (Lynn Bo Bo/Pool via AP, File)

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai banks have become the main supplier of international financial services for Myanmar’s military government, enabling its purchases of goods and equipment used to carry out its increasingly bloody war against pro-democracy resistance forces and armed ethnic minority groups, a U.N. expert said in a report issued Wednesday.

The report by Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, tracks how that country’s ruling military council has been able to continue procuring arms by shifting suppliers of financial services and military hardware as previous sources have been blocked by sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and other states.

The report charges that companies in Thailand, Myanmar’s eastern neighbor, have taken up the slack left by the withdrawal of Singapore firms’ business with the ruling junta.

FILE – The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews speaks to the media during a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, June 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)

It says the junta, formally known as the State Administration Council, “continues to engage with a broad international banking network to sustain itself and its weapons supplies.”


“Over the past year, 16 banks located in seven countries processed transactions related to SAC military procurement; 25 banks have provided correspondent banking services to Myanmar’s state-owned banks since the coup,” says the report, titled “Banking on the Death Trade: How Banks and Governments Enable the military Junta in Myanmar,” presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Myanmar’s junta came to power in February 2021 after the army ousted the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. After security forces used deadly force to suppress nonviolent protests, armed resistance arose and the country is now in a civil war. Myanmar’s military has been accused of carrying out widespread human right violations, including the bombing of civilians.

FILE – Charred homes sit in piles of ash in Mwe Tone village of Pale township, in the Sagaing region, Myanmar, on Feb. 1, 2022. (AP Photo, File)

“The good news is that the junta is increasingly isolated,” Andrews said in a statement. “The Myanmar military’s annual procurement of weapons and military supplies through the formal banking system declined by a third from the year ending March 2023 to the year that followed — from $377 million to $253 million.”

“The bad news is that the junta is circumventing sanctions and other measures by exploiting gaps in sanctions regimes, shifting financial institutions, and taking advantage of the failure of (U.N.) Member States to fully coordinate and enforce actions.”

A previous report from Andrews documented that Singapore-based entities had become the military junta’s third largest source of weapons materials, despite a clear national policy opposing the transfer of weapons to Myanmar.

After that report was presented and its findings investigated by the Singaporean government, “the flow of weapons and related materials to Myanmar from Singapore-registered companies dropped by nearly 90%,” the new report says.

It says that while Singapore-based banks facilitated over 70% of the junta’s purchases that passed through the formal banking system in the 2022 financial year, “that percentage had dropped to under 20% by FY2023.”

Companies in Thailand, which is Myanmar’s eastern neighbor, have taken up the slack left by the withdrawal of Singapore firms’ business with the junta, the new report says, as exports from Thailand-registered entities “more than doubled — from just over $60 million to nearly $130 million” from FY2022 to FY2023.

“Many SAC purchases previously made from Singapore-based entities, including parts for Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters used to conduct airstrikes on civilian targets, are now being sourced from Thailand,” it says.

FILE – Debris is seen in the St. Peter Baptist Church-Kanan, which was struck by the suspected military’s aerial attacks in Kanan village, Khampat town, Sagaing region on Jan. 8, 2024. (David Htan via AP, File)

It singles out Thai banks as playing a major role in facilitating international business for Myanmar’s ruling military, citing the example of Siam Commercial Bank, which it said carried out just over $5 million in transactions related to Myanmar military procurement in FY2022, rising to more than $100 million in FY2023. The bank declined to immediately comment on the report.


Andrews’ report recounts the toll of the fighting so far in Myanmar: more than 5,000 civilians killed since the takeover, 3 million people displaced, and more than 20,000 political prisoners behind bars.

“By relying on financial institutions that are willing to do business with Myanmar state-owned banks under its control, the junta has ready access to the financial services it needs to carry out systematic human rights violations, including aerial attacks on civilians,” Andrews said.

“International banks that facilitate transactions that include Myanmar state-owned banks are at high risk of enabling military attacks on Myanmar civilians. I urge them to stop doing so. Banks have a fundamental obligation to not facilitate crimes -– and this includes war crimes and crimes against humanity.”