The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has invited Myanmar junta representatives to a September security conference and training programme in the United States (US), according to the US Department of Defense.
The ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) Maritime Security Conference and Future Leaders’ Programme will take place from September 12 through 14 in Hawaii.
“Consistent with ASEAN protocol, the ASEAN Secretariat sent a joint invitation from the Thailand and United States co-chairs to all ADMM-Plus members, including Myanmar. Attendance at ASEAN forums is determined by ASEAN Member States,” a spokesperson for the Department of Defense told Myanmar Now.
The ADMM-Plus manages seven experts’ working groups made up of defence officials from all ten ASEAN member states, as well as eight additional dialogue partners with direct interests in Southeast Asian regional security: the governments of the US, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and South Korea.
One of these experts’ working groups, the maritime security group scheduled to convene in Hawaii this month, is currently co-chaired by Thailand and the US. Myanmar military personnel have already participated in this group’s meetings and training exercises since seizing power in the February 2021 coup.
This included Myanmar military officials’ attendance at a tabletop exercise held in Thailand in February of this year, as reported by Myanmar Now. The stated aim of the exercise was to improve search and rescue operations and to test plans and practices for combating human, arms and drug trafficking.
The US government’s attendance, and co-hosting, of ADMM-Plus meetings and exercises has continued despite its earlier decision to boycott the activities of the ADMM-Plus working group on counter-terrorism, currently co-chaired by the Myanmar military junta and Russia. Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea joined the US in the boycott.
Khin Ohmar, chair of the Myanmar human rights organisation Progressive Voice, called for the junta’s invitation to the Hawaii conference to be revoked, and for the Myanmar military to be barred from all ADMM-Plus events.
“The junta is an illegitimate and criminal organisation that is the root cause of the violence and human suffering in Myanmar, as well as a major cause of regional instability,” she said.
“By legitimising this criminal junta and providing direct support to them, ASEAN, the USA and other dialogue partners are enabling them to continue waging a terror campaign against Myanmar people,” she added.
Tom Andrews, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, has also condemned ASEAN’s inclusion of Myanmar junta officials at ADMM-Plus events, calling for participating governments to boycott any such activities attended by representatives of the regime.
Addressing the UN Human Rights Council in July, Andrews criticised ASEAN’s selection of Myanmar’s top air force commander, Gen. Htun Aung, to lead the bloc’s Air Chiefs’ Conference.
“It is a classic lose-lose proposition: The people of Myanmar lose because the junta will use this designation to legitimise forces that continue to brutally attack them. ASEAN loses by being directly associated with the atrocities of a ruthless military,” he said.
The ASEAN air force chiefs’ summit, which the junta’s air force commander-in-chief is slated to host, will take place in Naypyitaw from September 12-15, according to the activist group Justice For Myanmar.
In August, Russia joined the Myanmar military regime in co-hosting a counter-terrorism tabletop exercise in Naypyitaw. From September 25 to 30, the regime plans to co-chair a counter-terrorism field training exercise in Russia.
In response, 551 civil society organisations operating in Myanmar and internationally addressed an open letter to the ASEAN member states last month, urging them to cancel the military training and bar the junta from ADMM-Plus activities.