The European Union on Tuesday began a €10 million (US$13.5 million) programme to provide riot control training to the Burmese police force, following a request from opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The 10-month course, which will be provided by EU officials, is expected to include “crowd control” strategies, capacity building training and the provision of riot control gear, state media reported on Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear how the provision of riot gear would avoid breaching the EU’s arms embargo against Burma, which has been in place since 1996.
The first session will be carried out between 4-20 November at the 8th Combat Police Battalion Headquarters in Rangoon’s Mingalardon township and attended by 200 personnel, according to the Myanma Alinn Daily. A launch ceremony was held on Monday in Rangoon.
A spokesperson for the EU insisted that the programme is intended to boost the capacity of the Burmese police force and to train officers on “efficient” crowd control, as well as to reform policing practices.
The head of the EU’s delegation to Burma, Roland Kobia, reportedly said the training would educate police officers on transparency and public communication, human rights and crime prevention, along with international good practice standards.
It is being carried out in response to a request from President Thein Sein, based on a recommendation by the Latpadaung Investigation Commission, which was tasked with investigating a botched crackdown on peaceful anti-mine protestors in November 2012.
An independent report into the crackdown concluded that white phosphorous bombs had been used to disperse the crowd, leaving dozens of civilians severely burned.
The state-backed commission, led by democracy icon Suu Kyi, also ruled that excessive force had been used and recommended that police receive riot-control training to avoid future problems.
“We want to suggest that the police should check the material that they will use and what its effects are, before an anti-riot crackdown,” said the report.
But the report’s conclusions drew popular condemnation, with rights activists calling for police officers to be held to account before the law.
The EU and western countries are increasingly re-engaging with Burma, which is emerging from decades of military oppression and ethnic conflict. The UK, the US and Australia have all offered to provide training to the Burmese army, despite accusations that it could fuel conflicts in the country’s ethnic minority territories where abuses continue to be perpetrated by government forces.
Earlier this year, the EU posted two officers to Naypyidaw in response to an official request for advice on crowd control and community policing.
The Burmese police force has been implicated in several atrocities over the past few months, including several violent crackdowns on peaceful protestors. In April, video footage emerged which showed police officers standing idly by as a Muslim man was burned to death during religious riots in Meikhtila.