The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) has called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to exclude the Myanmar junta from military exercises, citing concern about the potential for further military capability enhancement.
The call to action is aimed at the Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM+) Experts Working Group on Counter Terrorism, which is urged to exclude Myanmar military junta members from all its activities.
If exclusion cannot be achieved, FORUM-ASIA has requested ASEAN Member States and Dialogue Partners to openly refuse to attend events where Myanmar’s military is present.
A tabletop exercise co-chaired by Myanmar and Russia, organised by the ADMM+ Experts’ Working Group, took place from 2 to 4 August 2023 in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. A field training exercise is scheduled to occur in Russia in September.
FORUM-ASIA expressed deep concern over these exercises, claiming they could inadvertently lend legitimacy to the junta, enabling it to further its campaign of terror against the Myanmar population.
“These military exercises would give the junta further legitimacy as well as capabilities and intelligence to carry out its campaign of terror against the people of Myanmar”, warned Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.
The People’s Defense Forces, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, and the National Unity Government were labelled ‘terrorist groups’ by the junta in December 2021.
This has precipitated a hostile propaganda campaign led by Min Aung Hlaing, urging military action against these groups.
Myanmar has seen a significant surge in violence since a failed coup attempt on 21 February 2021.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported that the ensuing military crackdowns have resulted in over 3,850 deaths. 24,100 people have been detained, of which 19,710 are currently in custody, and 6,976 are serving sentences.
Myanmar’s military junta extended a state of emergency for the fourth time on 1 August, 2023, delaying the elections they had promised to hold after their takeover.
Moreover, on 2 August, the military pardoned Aung San Suu Kyi in five of the 19 charges brought against her, reducing her 33-year jail sentence by six years. Critics view this as an attempt to restart stalled diplomatic efforts.
FORUM-ASIA has termed ASEAN’s support for the training of Myanmar’s military personnel through the ADMM+ Experts’ Working Group on Counter Terrorism as an “insult” to those seeking justice in Myanmar.
Bacalso further urged that the junta should be declared a terrorist organization in light of its gross human rights violations.
The group warns that ASEAN’s continuation of this military cooperation could be perceived as explicit support for the junta’s reign of terror.
It reiterates the demand for the junta’s exclusion from all military activities, urging all ASEAN Member States and Dialogue Partners to follow the public boycott path taken by Australia, the United States, and New Zealand.