by Emanuele Giordana
Three technicians in black and orange overalls from the Italian company Danieli receive a gift from a bespectacled gentleman in a blue shirt at a Burmese steel plant. But this is not an ordinary gentleman at all. He is the leader of Burma’s military junta, Min Aung Hlaing, the architect of the coup that overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi and her executive in February two years ago, unleashing a war that has now claimed more than 30,000 lives, according to some estimates. A war in which the level of violence has little to envy scenarios such as those in Ukraine.
The picture, one of the many that appear daily in the regime’s propaganda shows the seemingly calm Burmese general inaugurating, celebrating, receiving and awarding prizes here and there in a country at peace. It is rather embarrassing for the company based in Buttrio (Udine-Friuli, Italy), which has long been at the centre of news and controversy and has always kept a low profile, especially when it comes to Myanmar.
Already in the spotlight for supplying the Russians, the Friulian company hit the headlines last summer when the Italia Birmania insieme (Italy-Burma Together) association wrote to then Foreign Minister Di Maio asking for clarification on the Friulians’ alleged negotiations with the junta to reopen a steel plant Danieli company had started during the civilian government, but which Aung San Suu Kyi’s executive closed for cost and efficiency reasons.
According to a photo published in local newspapers in early June – and picked up by the Burmese-language international clandestine magazine MyanmarNow – the deal between the junta and Danieli, which resistance sources say has the software to restart the steel mill, is a done deal.
On 1 June, the regime’s newspaper, The Global New Light of Myanmar, carried a lengthy report on the visit of ‘The Chairman of the State Administration Council and Prime Minister General Min Aung Hlaing’ to Myingyan No. 1 Steel Plant in Mandalay. The lengthy report does not include the photo of the ‘foreign’ technicians in Danieli suits receiving a basket of fruit from the hands of the coup leader. But it can be seen not only on MyanmarNow but also on the web archive of the state-run Myanmari-tv.
The problem with the plant is that it pairs with another steel plant (Pinpet No. 2 in Shan State) from which Myingyan would receive the ferrous material to be processed. Pinpet is run by Burma authorities in partnership with VO Tyazhpromexport, a subsidiary of the Russian state conglomerate Rostec.
It has been in Burma since 2004 when it signed a contract with the military-owned conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). “There is widespread concern – MyanmarNow wrote – that steel produced in Myanmar under the coup regime could fuel a domestic arms industry that currently relies heavily on imports” (mainly from Russia, ed).
The news comes on the eve of the conference organised by Italia-Birmania Insieme (Italy-Burma Together), CESPI and Base Italia in Rome on Wednesday, where the Danieli dossier will be put on trial. Cecilia Brighi, Secretary General of Italia-Birmania Insieme, has already sent the photo to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has already summoned Danieli’s top management.
But a specific request to the Ministry of Made in Italy will also come out of the conference in Rome, to understand whether a Burmese steel plant, whose destiny is to serve the Ministry of Defence on which it depends, is also an Italian excellence to boast of. According to the Burmese opposition, another controversial case involves another Italian security company.
Cover image: Danieli representatives with Min Aung Hlaing an Mandalay – Myanmar Now