WASHINGTON – Lawmakers are demanding Myanmar’s exclusion from the US-led military exercises in neighboring Thailand next week, in the midst of the pressure for more U.s. sanctions in response to the atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims.
Myanmar’s planned participation in the Cobra Gold exercise, which begins Feb. 13 as the security forces are accused of killing hundreds, if not thousands of civilians and burning down of villages after Rohingya militant attacks last summer. More than 680,000 Rohingya loathed in majority Buddhist Myanmar and are denied citizenship — have fled to Bangladesh, to join the hundreds of thousands more already sheltering there. They are likely to return any time soon.
That makes the country’s involvement in Cobra Gold, America’s largest annual multi-nation drills in the Asia-Pacific region, all the more controversial, although Myanmar has participated before. Up to three officers of Myanmar be invited to observe the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief part of the exercises, Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt.-Col. Christopher Logan said. He said that the identity and rank of the officers participating is still under discussion.
“Simply put, the military engaged in an ethnic cleansing should not be honing their skills in addition to the AMERICAN troops,” Sen. John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Associated Press.
The criticism of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress reflects the worsening view of the Southeast Asian nation’s transformation from decades of military rule, the democracy, as evidence of the widespread abuse is mounted. Myanmar to the siege-like denial is something wrong done has only promoted the alienation of a large part of the world. For the past year, the crackdown, McCain is in favor of more U.S.-Myanmar military ties, not less. He is now one of the sponsors of a new sanctions bill.
The Trumpet administration has already imposed sanctions on the head of Myanmar’s western military command and says it is considering a black others. It maintains restrictions on visas and assistance to the Myanmar military.
But the Senate bipartisan bill, for the Wednesday approval by the Commission for Foreign Relations, would turn the screw by pushing for more targeted sanctions and by the strengthening of the restrictions on military engagement with Myanmar. A partner bill was introduced in the House.
Secretary Rex Tillerson described the attacks on the Rohingya as “ethnic cleansing.” U. N.-appointed investigator Yanghee Lee has gone further, saying that it “bears the hallmarks of a genocide,” which the world body is defined as acts committed with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, or religious group. In contrast to ethnic cleansing, genocide is a crime under international law.
Rep. Ed Royce, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Republican state chairman, and Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the architect of a law that AMERICAN aid to foreign military units involved in serious human rights violations, also said Myanmar had no business to take part in the exercises in Thailand. They include 29 countries. About 20 observers.
“We should not reward those who flagrantly violate international law with impunity,” Leahy said.
The fate of the Rohingya has marked Myanmar military’s uncontested authority over security operations in spite of the surrender of power to a civilian government after the elections in 2015.
Myanmar staunchly denies that the security forces are aimed at citizens in the “clearance operations” in Rakhine State on Myanmar’s west coast. Even the civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a nobel peace laureate, has hair on the international criticism. But Myanmar’s denials have appeared increasingly tenuous as horrific accounts of refugees have accumulated.
The Associated Press last week, documented through video and testimonials at least five mass graves of Rohingya citizens. Witnesses reported the military acid used to erase the identity of the victims. The government denied it, maintaining that only “terrorists” were killed, and then carefully buried.”
Secretary of defense Jim Mattis added his voice to US criticism. A visit to Asia late last month, he said that the Rohingya have suffered “a tragedy that is worse than anything” the media can depict.
And yet the Pentagon sees benefits in maintaining a lower-level ties with Burma’s military. Although the US primarily engages in Myanmar’s civilian leaders, still hopes on the form of the attitude of the officers and help counter China’s strategic influence, said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the State Department for East Asia, said the Cobra Gold invite appears to be an AMERICAN effort to “save lives” by improving regional coordination in response to disasters, such as Cyclone Nargis. The storm killed more than 100,000 Burma in 2008.
Thailand extended invite, Pentagon spokesman Logan said.
“That is a dodge,” said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, who wants Myanmar to be treated as a pariah. “If the U.S. had strongly objected to their participation, they would not have been invited. Everyone knows that.”