Australia in joint navy exercises with Burma

Feb 9, 2010 (DVB), Australia's announcement yesterday that it will carry out joint military exercises with the Burmese navy has been met with condemnation by Australian activists.

The Burma Campaign Australia further questioned whether the move will be in breach of Australia's strict embargo on the military regime in Burma.

"Australia has a longstanding arms embargo against Burma's military dictatorship , we would not sell them weapons, so why does the Australian government think that it is acceptable to participate in military exercises with them?" said the group's spokesperson, Zetty Brake.

Thirteen Asia-Pacific countries in total will be involved in the naval exercises, due to take place in Indian waters: Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

The objectives range from disaster relief to counter terrorism, but confusingly the announcement comes a day after the Australian foreign minister pledged a 40 percent boost in aid, whilst emphasising that sanctions would remain in place.

Australia aid will reach $AUS50 million ($US45 million) annually over the next three years, according to Stephen Smith. He said it was time for the international community to "help prepare Burma for the future" through "rebuilding, economic and social structures".

But, according to Brake, the pledge will send a mixed message to the Burmese junta. Burma currently receives only $US4 per head in foreign aid, the lowest of all the Southeast Asian countries, despite also being one of the poorest.

"Yesterday Foreign Minister Stephen Smith talked about sending a confusing signal to Burma's military dictatorship," said Brake. "What message is Australia's participation in these military exercises sending to Burma's millions of oppressed men, women and children?"

"The military dictatorship will never allow Burma's navy to use the skills gained from these exercises to help the people of Burma, and Australia would be naive, at best, to believe that," she added.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin

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