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US Supports Invitation to Burma for Military Exercises

  • VOA News

Burmese military representatives attend a regular session of parliament in Naypyitaw, Burma, October 18, 2012.

Burmese military representatives attend a regular session of parliament in Naypyitaw, Burma, October 18, 2012.

The United States says it will back Burma's attendance as an observer at a major regional military exercise early next year.

Pentagon spokesman George Little confirmed Friday that the U.S. military supports the invitation, which will officially come from Thailand.

"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 to observe the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and (military) medicine portion of the exercise as long as it is consistent with U.S. efforts to advance protection of human rights, civilian control of the military, anti-corruption efforts and other reform issues," Little said.
Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Steve Warren says the invitation would be limited:
“If the Burmese come and attend as observers, we would ensure that they observe the portions of Cobra Gold that deal with humanitarian relief, that deal with military medicine, things like this,”
Earlier, Thai Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Thanathip Sawangsang said the invitation to the annual "Cobra Gold" exercise would come from the U.S. But he also said the plans had not yet been finalized, and that the participants would discuss the idea at a meeting later this month.

"Cobra Gold" brings together more than 10,000 U.S. and Thai troops and other participants from countries in the region.

Thai officials say Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia are expected to participate in Cobra Gold next year, along with 13 observer nations.

The invitation would be a powerful gesture toward Burma's semi-civilian government, after the military earned a grim record of human rights abuses during the 49 years it directly ruled the country.

That human rights record has been the focus of recent talks between the Burmese government and U.S. officials visiting Naypidaw for the first Human Rights Dialogue.

At a briefing with reporters Friday, U.S. Ambassador Derek Mitchell said progress is being made.

"This was really a remarkable, remarkable meeting. It was constructive. It could not have happened a year ago," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the two sides discussed labor rights, religious freedom, rule of law, and the justice system.

He also said the U.S. government will provide $2.7 million in aid to victims from last month's rioting in Rakhine, pitting ethnic Rohingyas, who are predominantly Muslim, against local Rakhine, who are mostly Buddhist.

The conflict killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands others, prompting the United Nations to warn of an impending humanitarian crisis.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
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