YANGON — The Myanmar Army said on Wednesday they will never again send officers to Britain for training after the the British government announced it was suspending its training program with Myanmar’s military in light of government security operations in Rakhine State dogged by allegations of human rights abuses against self-identifying Rohingya,
A British government spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday they will suspend the educational course on democracy, leadership and English language—which cost around £305,000 (US$ 411,000) last year—provided to the Myanmar’s military until there is an acceptable resolution to the current situation.
“We call on the Burmese Armed Forces to take immediate steps to stop the violence in Rakhine and ensure the protection of all civilians, to allow full access for humanitarian aid,” a British government spokesperson said in the statement, according to Reuters.
At least 420,000 Muslims have fled into neighboring Bangladesh to escape what the UN’s human rights chief has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” bringing with them accounts of extrajudicial killings and destruction of property.
Médecins Sans Frontières in Bangladesh said on Wednesday it had treated 9,290 patients—including 147 with gunshot wounds—since the Aug. 25 Muslim militant attacks on police stations triggered the army crackdown.
Myanmar’s Vice President Henry Van Thio told the UN on Wednesday, however, that the military have been instructed to take “full measures” to avoid collateral damage and harming innocent civilians.
A statement released by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) True News Information Team on Wednesday said five Myanmar military trainees currently attending training in Britain under the program to promote relations and cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries were forced to return to Myanmar at the request of Britain.
The five were staying at Myanmar Army offices in London on Wednesday, the statement said.
“We will bring them back to Myanmar as quickly as possible and we will not send trainees to Britain anymore, including those under previous agreements,” the statement read.
The UK was the first Western nation to re-establish military-to military ties under the previous quasi-civilian government in the form of a training program for Myanmar officers in support of Myanmar’s democratic transition, despite opposition from human rights groups’ citing alleged military human rights abuses in ethnic regions.
Britain and other Western nations imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s previous military junta and avoided military-to-military contact. Most sanctions were dropped after President Thein Sein took office in 2011 and rolled out sweeping economic and political reforms.
Then opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi strongly supported cautious military-to-military engagement in a meeting with Britain’s former Chief of Defense Staff Gen Sir David Richards in June 2013 during his visit to Myanmar. A training program was launched six months later in January 2014.
The Myanmar Army has been undergoing reforms since 2011 to to become a professional or “standard” army, according to its chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing. He has embarked on overseas study tours and attended a European Union Military Committee (EUMC) meeting in Brussels in 2016.
Ko Ye, the executive director of Yangon-based Tagaung Institute of Political Studies, told The Irrawaddy that the suspension could have an impact on military-to-military relations between Myanmar and Britain.
“The trainings by the UK were coordinated by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She personally attended training-related ceremonies held in Naypyiyaw as well. So the suspension may affect long term relations between the two militaries,” he said.
“Plus, the suspension, especially sending back the officers, may affect the credibility and legitimacy of the Myanmar Military that has an interest to reform,” he said.
Last week, the US dropped plans to expand training for the Tatmadaw in areas like maritime security and combating human trafficking.