The chief of Myanmar’s defense forces — recommended by the UN for investigation and prosecution for war crimes and genocide — has met with Australia’s ambassador and said that he wants to train more of his officers in Australia.
Burmese Army Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is commander-in-chief of the Burmese armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, which has been accused of genocide in its systematic persecution of the ethnic and religious minority Rohingya.
Australian Ambassador to Myanmar Andrea Faulkner met with Min Aung Hlaing on Jan. 29 at the Bayintnaung Villa in the capital, Naypyidaw. The pair exchanged gifts and posed for photographs.
Human Rights Watch has said that Australia’s decision to take the meeting risked giving legitimacy and credibility to a military accused of mass atrocities.
Min Aung Hlaing, widely regarded as the most powerful person in Myanmar, said that he and Faulkner discussed “improved relations between Myanmar and Australia, which have been on friendly terms since ancient times,” as well as “defense cooperation between the two armed forces of the two countries, sending of more trainees [and] the Indo-Pacific region’s geographical politics.”
They also discussed Myanmar’s inquiry into the “clearance operation” against the Rohingya, the provisional measures ordered by the UN’s International Court of Justice and Australian assistance in anti-narcotic operations.
Australia is one of the few Western countries that maintains a policy of “engagement” with the Burmese military, but only in noncombat areas, providing US$400,000 of training annually in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, English-language classes and peacekeeping.
The militaries of the EU, the UK, the US, France and Canada cut all assistance to the Tatmadaw following the 2017 violence against the Rohingya.
It is not the first time that Faulkner and previous Australian ambassadors have met with Min Aung Hlaing.
The UN has identified Min Aung Hlaing as someone who should face investigation and prosecution for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
He has also been individually sanctioned by the US under its Global Magnitsky Act. He cannot travel to the US, or do business with any US citizen. Any assets he might have in the US have been frozen.
The US Department of the Treasury said that military forces under his direct command had committed “serious human rights abuses.”
“During this time, members of ethnic minority groups were killed or injured by gunshot, often while fleeing, or by soldiers using large-bladed weapons; others were burned to death in their own houses,” it said.
Min Aung Hlaing has described the Rohingya as “illegal immigrants, terrorists and extremists” and said that the “clearance operations” to exterminate or forcibly drive the Rohingya out of Myanmar were an “unfinished job” that the government was trying to resolve.
Australia has imposed autonomous sanctions on five senior members of the Burmese military, including some direct subordinates of Min Aung Hlaing, but not on the commander-in-chief himself
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