World Bulletin/News Desk
Myanmar will be invited to a major U.S. and Thai-led multinational military exercise, a powerful symbolic gesture toward a military with a grim human rights record and a milestone in its rapprochement with the West.
Officials from participating countries told Reuters Myanmar would be asked to send observers to the annual Kobra Gold exercise, which involves thousands of American and Thai military personnel and participants from other Asian countries.
"This appears to be the first step on the part of the U.S. to re-engage Myanmar militarily and to wean it away from its reliance on China," said Jan Zalewski, an analyst covering Myanmar for IHS Global Insight, a research firm.
Washington's rapprochement with Myanmar's military has been carefully calibrated under the umbrella of humanitarian dialogue, the sources said, constituting one of the boldest rewards for Myanmar's new semi-civilian government after 49 years of direct military rule.
It is also seen as a first step toward U.S.-Myanmar military-to-military ties, cut off after 1988 when soldiers opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in a crackdown that killed or wounded thousands and led to the house arrest of democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi.
The expected invitation follows intense lobbying by Thailand, co-host of the exercise, the sources said.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said in Washington that any Myanmar participation in Cobra Gold would focus on humanitarian relief, disaster assistance and medical programs.
"The United States is open to considering a request from the kingdom of Thailand to have a small contingent of Burmese military officers attend Cobra Gold as observers," Little said.
Pentagon officials said discussions were still underway between Thailand and the United States on the issue, and said the expected Myanmar contingent would number about three officers.
But the initiative could still prompt charges that Washington is moving too quickly in seeking to rehabilitate a military accused of continued human rights violations in ethnic regions such as Kachin State where tens of thousands of people have been displaced in 16 months of fighting.
Refugees fled forced labor, killings, rape and torture by the Myanmar military, reported Human Rights Watch in June.
"Burma's military continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is shocking that the United States would invite them to military exercises," said Mark Farmaner, director of advocacy group Burma Campaign UK.
The invitation follows a visit this week by a delegation led by Michael Posner, the U.S. State Department's top human rights official, to Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar, also known as Burma. The U.S. team also included Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Vikram Singh and other U.S. military officials for discussions that U.S. officials said focused on human rights.
The talks on the Myanmar side were led by Deputy Minister for Defence Commodore Aung Thaw and other officials. Myanmar state media reported that the "two sides held talks on levels and operations of defense institutions of Myanmar and U.S. and exchanged views on future dialogue and bilateral cooperation."
"If there is a decision to move forward with military-to-military operations with Burma, then we are going to be prepared to support that the best we can," the head of U.S. Pacific Command, Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear, told journalists in Bangkok on Tuesday.
Posner, speaking to reporters on Friday, said the United States would continue to press Myanmar's military on its rights record including charges it has used brutal tactics against ethnic rebel groups and permits child soldiers.
"We had an open and direct discussion of the kinds of allegations and concerns that have been expressed over time," Posner said.
"I can't tell you coming out of the meeting that there was a specific promise to do x or y, but the tone of the discussion was straightforward and we certainly put on the table the things that we are concerned about."
The invitation is another illustration of the Obama administration's pivot this year from Iraq and Afghanistan to focus national security resources on the Asia-Pacific region.
Cobra Gold take places in Chon Buri, a Thai province east of Bangkok where the United States built up a massive military presence during the Vietnam War. It began in 1980.
Last year, about 10,000 U.S. military personnel took part, along with about 3,400 Thais. Five other countries participated - Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. And nine countries sent observers, including China.
"In the past, Myanmar has always been unhappy about this Cobra Gold, thinking that it was directed against them and was like a step towards invasion," said Dr Tin Maung Maung Than, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore and expert on Myanmar's military.
Even when it was a dictatorship, Myanmar sent more officers to the United States than to any other country. More than 1,200 officers trained there between Myanmar's independence from Britain in 1948 and General Ne Win's military coup in 1962, according to Maung Aung Myoe, author of "Building the Tatmadaw: Myanmar Armed Forces since 1948."
Ne Win's coup ushered in nearly half a century of isolation and misrule, but the United States maintained military ties as a bulwark against the spread of communism from neighboring China.
Some 255 Myanmar officers graduated from the United States from 1980 to 1988 under the International Military Education and Training program, more than from any other country, said Maung Aung Myoe. The program was halted, and U.S. sanctions were imposed, after the junta crushed the 1988 uprising and refused to honor the results of a general election won by Suu Kyi's party two years later.
458 candidates, including 97 women, find their way to provincial council seats; IEC Chairman blames delay in announcing results to technical problems
The United Nations General Assembly adopts resolution granting observer status to the Developing-Eight, or D-8.
The Palestinian youths pelted Israeli troops with stones and empty bottles, but the troops responded by firing teargas and birdshot, wounding ten Palestinians and making dozens of others experience temporary asphyxiation
More than 36 million citizens are set to vote and choose among 29 political parties in Sunday's early general election.
Qatar has renounced deporting Muslim Brothers leaders, Egyptian media reported.
Ismail Radwan said that the new round of indirect negotiations will start on Monday in Cairo as scheduled
A Kurdish intelligence officer in Zumar said peshmerga forces had advanced from five directions in the early morning after coalition air strikes on ISIL positions
Soldiers exchanged heavy fire with the militants, whose exact affiliation was unclear, and had surrounded them by midday, security sources said
60 % of French prisoners are Muslims “originally or culturally” according to French deputy Guillaume Larrive
Colorectal cancer is the leading cancer in males followed by leukemia and prostate cancer, according to the registry.
"Egypt is fighting an existential war," al-Sisi said, going on to say that his country will take "measures" along border with the Gaza Strip following the attack
Human Rights Watch calls for prosecution of military involved in killing 85 Muslims in southern Thailand
Kurdish media claimed the first units tomorrow to across Turkey's border, but news on when the peshmerga will start their passage is denied
Hamas said that two members had been detained in Bethlehem and two others in Hebron late Friday.
Jabbari had been sentenced to death in accordance "qisas" (eye for an eye) law after being found guilty of stabbing dead an older man with a kitchen knife seven years ago.
Red flags bearing the logo of Italy's largest union, the CGIL, waved over town squares as thousands of people rallied behind the group's call for job creation and job security