The Irrawaddy

Navy Chief Joins International Seapower Symposium in US

RANGOON — Burma’s Navy Chief Admiral Tin Aung San left for the United States on Monday to attend an international naval meeting at the US Naval War College (NWC) in Rhode Island, becoming the country’s first high-ranking military official to go to the US since sanctions were lifted against Burma last week.

He was joined by another senior navy official for the three-day International Seapower Symposium (ISS) that began on Tuesday.

According to an NWC announcement on its website, senior representatives from more than 110 countries, including many of their senior-most navy and coast guard officers, would attend the event.

“ISS has become the largest gathering of maritime leaders in history and provides a forum for senior international leaders to create and solidify solutions to shared challenges and threats in ways that are in the interests of individual nations,” said the announcement.

Despite the United States pledging that it would soon drop economic sanctions against Burma, restrictions intended to block drug trafficking and bar military trade with North Korea still apply, as does a visa ban barring some former and current members of Burma’s military from traveling to the US. But it is unclear who those visa restrictions apply to and exemptions can be granted in particular circumstances.

When asked about the Navy chief’s visit, US Ambassador to Burma Scot Marciel told the media on Tuesday that it is very difficult for senior military personnel and former senior military personnel to get visas to travel to the United States, but that there are waivers in particular cases.

He added that ISS was a program that warranted a waiver.

The United States has re-engaged military cooperation with Burma since 2013, focusing on humanitarian issues, officer professionalization and human rights, in an effort to encourage the Burma Army to transform into a professional security force with civilian oversight.

After the National League of Democracy won a historic victory in the 2015 elections, international experts and scholars called on US policymakers to reestablish further cooperation between the US military and the Burma Army.

(The Irrawaddy’s reporter Moe Myint contributed to this report.)