Activists and rights groups have called on Japan to stop providing military training to Myanmar’s junta after a former trainee was found to be involved in airstrikes against civilians.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Justice for Myanmar, a group of covert activists campaigning for justice and accountability, said on Monday that air force Lieutenant Colonel Hlwan Moe, who trained in Japan, flew bombing missions over Magwe Region.
The anti-regime stronghold has been targeted by junta airstrikes, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and the torching of thousands of homes. More than 50,000 civilians have fled their homes since the 2021 coup.
The All Japan Defense Association and a Japanese military document show Lt-Col Hlwan Moe trained at Japan’s Air Command and Staff College from August 2016 to March 2017.
He is reportedly a deputy commander of Magwe’s air base.
Hlwan Moe was included in a list of air force personnel involved in airstrikes since the coup leaked to Khit Thit Media in January.
Two military sources confirmed Hlwan Moe’s photograph, Justice for Myanmar said.
Teppei Kasai, HRW’s Asia program officer, said Myanmar’s long history of war crimes should have prevented Japan providing military training and exposes Tokyo to allegations of complicity in atrocities.
“The Japanese government should give up its absurd, wishful thinking that its training program can change the Myanmar military’s abusive culture,” Kasai said.
Since 2015, cadets from Myanmar at Japan’s National Defense Academy have received both academic and military training.
Ten personnel, including two senior officers and two elite candidates, are receiving practical security training for up to a year at the academy.
Elite candidates receive basic education and training in live ammunition drills over a five-year period, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. Trainees have been accepted after the February 2021 coup.
The Japanese defense ministry said it accepts military personnel from 36 countries, including Myanmar, under its Self-Defense Forces Law.
The ministry said Myanmar is strategically important for Japan because it borders China and India.
In December, a ministry official reportedly told HRW that eight cadets from Myanmar were at the academy and at least two of them joined after the coup. The academy’s curriculum includes combat and firearms training.
HRW in December 2021 called on Japan to suspend the program because it risked complicity in atrocities. A ministerial official said it had no information about what the personnel did when they returned to Myanmar.
Japan accepted two cadets and two officers for training this year.
However, during a parliamentary security committee session on April 26, an official said the ministry “knows to a certain extent” what “positions” the trainees hold but declined to disclose details to protect bilateral relations.
Justice for Myanmar’s spokeswoman Yandanar Maung said the Japanese program was inexcusable, emboldened the junta and trained personnel that may be targeted by a future commission investigating junta crimes.
“We call on Japan to halt the training and take steps to stop the regime from committing grave rights violations, including ending business with the military and its conglomerates,” she said.
Mass killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and indiscriminate attacks on civilians that rights groups say amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes are being committed across Myanmar.
Since the coup, the regime has killed at least 1,800 civilians, although many observers believe the actual number is far higher.
Japan has called for an end to military rule and the release of political prisoners, including State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
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