U-TAPAO AIR BASE, Thailand (AP) – Thailand and the United States downplayed the presence of a Myanmar military officer at the opening yesterday of the largest annual joint military exercise in Southeast Asia.
Myanmar’s military has been accused of massive human rights violations in its crackdown on the Rohingya minority, who have fled by the hundreds of thousands to neighbouring Bangladesh. US lawmakers had demanded Myanmar’s exclusion from the exercise.
“The truth is Myanmar is not a participant nation,” US Ambassador to Thailand Glyn T Davies told reporters at in the Cobra Gold exercise in eastern Thailand. “They’re not part of the exercises here.” He did not explain the Myanmar officer’s attendance.
Thai Gen Thanchaiyan Srisuwan acknowledged inviting Myanmar to the opening ceremony. However, Myanmar’s flag was not flown at the ceremonial opening.
In Washington last week, both Republican and Democrat members of congress criticised the invitation to Myanmar. Senator John McCain, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Associated Press “militaries engaged in ethnic cleansing should not be honing their skills alongside US troops,” a reference to accounts of atrocities committed by Myanmar troops.
A US statement said 11,075 service members from 29 countries are taking part in this year’s exercise, with Thailand, the US, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia the seven main participants.
It said the aims of the exercise are to enhance security cooperation, develop peacekeeping forces and maintain readiness for humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions. The exercise includes humanitarian components, such as evacuation drills, as well as traditional military exercises such as amphibious landings.