Australia belatedly ‘suspends’ military cooperation with Myanmar coup regime

Street theatre at a March 6 rally against the coup in Myanmar highlighted the increasingly repressive response of the Myanmar military coup regime. Photo: Peter Boyle

Australia should cut all military and business ties with the Myanmar/Burma military coup regime, Dr Thein Moe Win, a spokesperson for Action Against Myanmar Military Coup (Australia) told Green Left at a March 6 protest in Martin Place.

Protests were also held in cities around Australia that weekend as the community busily called government ministers and members of parliament to demand firmer action by the Australian government.

On March 7, a shameful 35 days after the February 1 coup, Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne that “military cooperation” with Myanmar would be suspended. Aid would be channeled through non-government organisations, not the regime, and “re-directed to the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor including the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities.”

“The Australian government should not recognise the State Administrative Council and military junta in Myanmar and should not cooperate with the Myanmar military until state power is returned to the elected members of parliament,” Win said.

“It should urge the Myanmar military to respect the 2020 vote and recognise and support the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), which is the committee representing the elected MPs.

“It should help bring the terrorist military dictators to international justice.

“The Australian government should proactively work in the United Nations (UN) to uphold the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).”

The R2P doctrine on protecting human rights, when states are unwilling or unable to do so, was adopted at 2005 UN World Summit and was subsequently endorsed by the UN Security Council.

“The Australian government should also urge Australian businesses to stop cooperating with the Myanmar military,” Win added.

Over the past five years, he explained, a lot of foreign investment had gone to Myanmar because of democratic reforms and the expectation of greater stability.

“But now, [the country] has gone back to the dark ages. All these military-backed business empires are very strong in Burma,” he said, adding that Australian businesses should not work with them.

Australian businesses should get out of Myanmar to “isolate and punish those military-backed business empires”.

“That’s the only way we can have effective action against military dictatorships,” said Win.

Australia’s “military cooperation” with Myanmar was shrouded in secrecy until recently extracted some details under freedom of information laws.

The ABC revealed that, under the program, Australia provided training to two members of Myanmar’s military who had served with military units accused of involvement with war crimes against the Rohingya people.

The ABC report also revealed that: “Admiral Tin Aung San — a member of the military junta and former head of the navy — was hosted at a naval conference in Australia in October 2017.

“Tin Aung San has since been sanctioned by the United States government for his role in the February military coup.”

The ABC report added that in a 2019 meeting between Australia’s Ambassador to Myanmar Andrea Faulkner and top general Min Aung Hlaing — who has since assumed power in the military coup — it was intimated that military cooperation might be stepped up if Myanmar engaged with international accountability processes and pursued justice for those who had been abused in Rakhine State and elsewhere in Myanmar.

According to Burma Campaign UK, Australia was one of 13 governments to continue military cooperation with Myanmar after the February 1 military coup.

In a March 7 on its website, it chided the federal government: “Australia has not provided an explanation as to why it took them 35 days to decide whether or not to keep training the Burmese military following the coup.

“It is three and a half years since the beginning of the 2017 military offensive against Rohingya civilians, mostly children, which United Nations investigators described as genocide and crimes against humanity.

“Australia has not provided an explanation as to why it considers a military coup and shooting civilians in cities as unacceptable, but shooting ethnic civilians in villages and committing genocide is not serious enough to stop providing training.”