U-TAPAO AIR BASE, Thailand – Thailand and the United States played down the presence of a Myanmar military officer at the opening Tuesday of the largest annual joint military exercise in Southeast Asia.
The Myanmar army has been accused of massive human rights violations in the repression of the Muslim Rohingya minority, who have fled by the hundreds of thousands to neighboring Bangladesh. The AMERICAN lawmakers had asked Myanmar to the exclusion of the exercise.
“The truth is Myanmar is a participant nation,” AMERICAN Ambassador in Thailand, Glyn T. Davies told reporters in the Cobra Gold exercise in eastern Thailand. “They’re not part of the exercises here.” He did not explain Myanmar officer of the home front.
Thai Gen. Thanchaiyan Srisuwan recognised invite Myanmar to the opening ceremony. However, Myanmar’s flag was not flown at the ceremonial opening. It is believed that the Thais invited Myanmar to send three staff, although only one seemed to be attending.
In Washington last week, both Republican and Democratic members of congress criticized the invitation to Myanmar. Sen. John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Associated Press “soldiers involved in a ethnic cleansing should not be honing their skills in addition to the AMERICAN troops,” a reference to the accounts of the atrocities committed by Myanmar troops.
A U.S. statement said 11,075 service members from 29 countries are taking part in the exercise this year, with Thailand, the US, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia, the top seven participants.
It is said that the objectives of the exercise are to enhance security cooperation, the development of the peacekeeping force and maintain readiness for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.
The exercise includes humanitarian components, such as evacuation exercises, as well as the traditional military exercises such as amphibious landings.
The disaster is assumed a high profile in recent years, especially after the tsunami in 2004 that killed more than 200,000 people in 14 countries. Multinational forces mobilized for relief efforts after the crisis, if they did it again on a more limited scale after 2008, the Cyclone nargis devastated Myanmar, killing upward of 130,000 people.
Davies, an indirect reference to such crises, told reporters that “It is very important that everyone from the region have an eye on what’s happening here and, to some extent, but I come back to what I said earlier that Burma is not one of the participating nation.” Burma is the old name for Myanmar before it was amended by the country’s previous military government, and is still used by the governments of the USA and some other countries.