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Australia told to halt support for Myanmar military as Rohingya atrocities continue

Sydney Morning Herald - September 9, 2017

Lindsay Murdoch, Bangkok -- Calls are growing for Australia to end its defence training and support to Myanmar's military which is accused of committing widespread atrocities against Rohingya civilians in the country's strife-torn Rakhine State.

Human rights groups have confirmed reports that Myanmar soldiers have planted internationally banned landmines along its border with Bangladesh as almost 300,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine in the past fortnight,rapidly worsening the humanitarian crisis.

More than 18,000 Rohingya Muslims, many sick and wounded, are attempting to flee the worst violence to grip north-west Myanmar in years.

"Governments around the world who continue to train or sell arms to Myanmar's military are propping up a force that is carrying out a vicious campaign against Rohingya that amounts to crimes against humanity," said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International's Crisis Response Director, who is at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

Australia agreed to further strengthen its defence ties with Myanmar's military, known as the Tatmadaw, at joint-country talks in March, after re-establishing a resident Defence Attache office in Myanmar in 2014. It has pledged $66 million in aid for Myanmar in 2017-18.

The Australian Defence Force is providing the Tatmadaw with peace-keeping training and has supported numerous workshops and trainings on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and international law. Australian navy ships visit Myanmar ports.

For almost half a century, the Tatmadaw was shunned by Western nations, including Australia, as it brutally suppressed political freedoms and crushed dissent in the country also known as Burma.

But since 2011, its generals have adopted a doctrine that makes achieving international recognition a high priority.
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Australia announced its re-engagement with the Tatmadaw when the warship HMAS Childers arrived at Yangon's port in 2014, as Myanmar began to implement economic and political reforms.

"Australia's engagement with Myanmar's military, including this visit, allows the Australian Defence Force to reinforce the role of a professional defence force in a modern democracy," then Acting Defence Minister George Brandis said.

At the time Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the "Myanmar military plays an important role in ensuring success of the reform process."

Now Ms Bishop says Australia is "deeply concerned" about the escalating violence in Rakhine. She acknowledged in a statement that Myanmar is dealing with attacks on government forces but did not directly accuse its military, amid an international outcry over the violence.

"We urge all sides to exercise restraint and respect human rights," Ms Bishop said. "We reiterate our call for proportionality, the protection of civilians and an end to the use of violence."

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de factor leader, last week dismissed media reports that the army was planting landmines, suggesting they were laid by insurgents she calls terrorists.

But the Bangladesh has lodged a formal complaint to Myanmar over the laying of the mines along a narrow stretch forming part of the north-western border of Rakhine.

Eyewitness accounts published by news agencies, and confirmed by Amnesty investigators, have revealed that the landmines have seriously injured at least three civilians and killed at least one.

"The Myanmar military's callous use of inherently indiscriminate and deadly weapons at highly trafficked paths around the border is putting the lives of ordinary people at risk," Ms Hassan, from Amnesty said in a statement.

"The Myanmar army is one of only a handful of state forces worldwide, along with North Korea and Syria, to still openly use antipersonnel landmines. "Authorities must immediately end this abhorrent practice against people who are already feeling persecution."

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/australia-told-to-halt-support-for-myanmar-military-as-rohingya-atrocities-continue-20170909-gye3cf.html.

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