Wed, Mar 07, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Australia to train Burmese army

BY EXAMPLE:The Australian Department of Defense said it plans to expose Burmese military personnel to a modern, professional defence force and humanitarian law

The Guardian

Rohingya refugees cross from Myanmar into Bangladesh near the Naf River on Oct. 9 last year.

Photo: AFP

The Australian Department of Defence plans to spend about A$400,000 (US$310,580) on English lessons, event attendances and training courses for members of the Burmese military last year and this year, documents released under freedom of information laws show.

Myanmar’s armed forces, also known as the Tatmadaw, has faced international condemnation and accusations of ethnic cleansing in recent months for perpetrating a fresh wave of attacks against the country’s minority Rohingya population. About 688,000 Rohingya refugees have fled over the border to Bangladesh since August last year.

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee has said the situation bears “the hallmarks of a genocide.”

In 2017 to 2018 the Australian defense department is to spend A$398,000 (a A$126,000 increase on last year’s spending) on English lessons and on funding Myanmar’s participation in the Pirap Jabiru multilateral military exercises in the region that Australia cohosts with Thailand.

Burmese State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi is due to visit Sydney this month for the ASEAN-Australia special summit.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Thursday last week said that the Burmese government’s treatment of Rohingya is expected to be discussed.

Australian allies including the US, UK, Canada, France and the EU have cut ties with the Burmese military over the violence. The US and Canada have imposed targeted sanctions against Burmse military leaders.

In recent months the Burmese military has also courted controversy through purchases of fighter jets from Russia and ballistic missiles from North Korea.

“Defense has a modest program of engagement with Myanmar in non-combat areas, with a focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping training and English-language training. This engagement is designed to expose the Tatmadaw to the ways of a modern, professional defense force and highlight the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law,” a briefing note produced by the Australian defense department said.

The note, anticipating a challenge on why the UK and the US have acted differently, said: “Each country needs to make its own decision on engagement with the Tatmadaw.”

While an arms embargo, introduced in 1991, remains in place, Australia has so far diverged from its allies and resisted calls from groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to suspend military cooperation with Myanmar.

Australia held its first bilateral defense cooperation talks with Myanmar last year and plans to hold further talks this year.

“Australia’s bilateral defense engagement with Myanmar is limited to humanitarian and non-combat areas such as disaster relief, peacekeeping, aviation safety and English-language training,” an Australian defense department spokesperson said. “Maintaining this engagement has enabled senior Australian military officials to directly raise concerns on Rakhine with their Myanmar counterparts.”

Last year, the Australian defense department offered Tatmadaw officers English lessons and study places in Australia for courses on aviation safety, maritime security, operational law, joint warfare and peacekeeping. One Tatmadaw officer received a scholarship from the defense department to study for a master of peace and conflict at the University of Sydney.

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