from Asia Unbound

Is the United States Really Going to Expand Military Cooperation With Myanmar Now?

September 11, 2017

Rohingya refugees watch the smoke on Myanmar border side after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal, in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh on September 11, 2017. Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
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Every day seems to bring worse news about the spiraling conflict in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. A top UN human rights official recently announced that the violence in Rakhine State is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” As the Guardian reported:

In an address to the UN human rights council in Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein denounced the “brutal security operation” against the Rohingya in Rakhine state, which he said was “clearly disproportionate” to [Rohingya] insurgent attacks carried out last month.

Over 300,000 Rohingya have now fled into Bangladesh in recent weeks, straining the camps along the border. Camp aid workers are reporting desperate shortages of many essential supplies. The Myanmar military this past week also rebuffed a supposed month-long ceasefire offered by Rohingya militants.

Meanwhile, journalists from organizations like the BBC who were taken on government-monitored trips to parts of Rakhine State this past week—heavily controlled trips, mind you—still managed to see massive devastation and what they believed were more villages “being put to the torch” by security forces or vigilantes. Rights organizations have confirmed these massive burning operations, while other reports suggest that the Myanmar military may have laid mines along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

In this climate, is the U.S. Senate really going to go forward with the part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act that would expand military to military cooperation with Myanmar? This expanded cooperation would include more trainings for the Myanmar military on a range of issues.

The long-term impact of such trainings and military-to-military cooperation can be debated. But why expand cooperation now—right now, as the world is watching the ongoing strife in western Myanmar? That seems a serious question.

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