Myanmar to join US-Asean maritime drills despite sanctions

YANGON • Myanmar's navy will join maritime drills with the US in South-east Asia next week, a spokesman said yesterday, in a rare show of military cooperation despite Washington slapping sanctions on the country's top army brass over the Rohingya crisis.

The inclusion in the drills does not violate US travel bans against Myanmar's commander-in-chief and three senior figures for overseeing a bloody campaign that drove 740,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh two years ago.

But there are growing calls to further isolate the military, expand sanctions and prosecute senior leadership for genocide against the stateless minority. The drills come at a time of stepped-up US engagement in the region and tensions between China and several South-east Asian nations over rival claims in the South China Sea.

"We were invited as part of Asean for the exercise," said Mr Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman for the commander-in-chief's office in Myanmar.

He said the exercise, starting in the Gulf of Thailand on Sept 2, will focus on crime, piracy and security, and the travel bans were separate issues. "The sanctions imposed were personal and this exercise is a coordination between Asean and the US," he said. The US State Department said in a media advisory that the drills with the 10 nations of the regional bloc provide an opportunity "to work with all members of Asean on shared maritime security priorities in the region".

A UN fact-finding mission wants Myanmar's commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing to face charges of genocide after documenting arson, extra-judicial killings and rape during the military's August 2017 campaign against the Rohingya.

Myanmar has rebuffed the allegations, saying it was defending itself from Rohingya insurgent attacks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2019, with the headline 'Myanmar to join US-Asean maritime drills despite sanctions'. Print Edition | Subscribe