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Next Cobra Gold exercise could include Myanmar military observers

Military officials from Myanmar, who have been slowly introducing reforms after being criticized for years for human rights abuses, may be invited to joint exercises with the United States next year, Defense Department officials said.

Up to three military officers could be invited to attend the 32nd annual Cobra Gold exercise in Thailand in February, according to Maj. Cathy Wilkinson, Defense Press Officer for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. The officers would take part in the exercise strictly in an observation role.

The exercise is led by Thailand, which invites the participants, Wilkinson said. The country shares a border with Myanmar, also known as Burma.

“The United States is open to considering a request from the Kingdom of Thailand to have a small contingent of Burmese military officers attend Cobra Gold as observers, to observe the humanitarian assistance/disaster relief or military medical portion of the exercise — as long as it is consistent with U.S. efforts to advance protection of human rights, civilian control of the military, anti-corruption efforts and other reform issues,” Wilkinson said. “It’s all still in the early phase; no decisions or invitations have been made.”

Reclusive Myanmar has been run by a repressive military junta, which crushed a 1988 uprising. But it has begun opening up after five decades of isolation under its new president, an ex-general who served as prime minister under the former regime and has begun to reform the economy. The United States and Europe have lifted most sanctions against Myanmar.

Due to reforms in the country, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged last month to normalize the commercial relationship between Myanmar and the U.S. and begin the process of easing restrictions on imports of Burmese goods, according to a State Department statement. The comments that opened the door to the possibility of inviting Myanmar to Cobra Gold were originally made Friday by Pentagon Press Secretary George Little.

Cobra Gold is the United States’ largest multilateral exercise in the Asia-Pacific region.

In 2012, it featured a computer-simulated command-post exercise, field training operations and humanitarian and civic-assistance projects, according to an Army statement. About 10,000 servicemembers from the U.S., Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea participated.

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