Myanmar to be invited to major U.S.-Thai military exercise
By Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall and Andrew Quinn
BANGKOK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Myanmar will be invited to a major U.S. and Thai-led multinational military exercise, a powerful symbolic gesture toward a military with a grim human rights record and a milestone in its rapprochement with the West.
Officials from participating countries told Reuters Myanmar would be asked to send observers to the annual Kobra Gold exercise, which involves thousands of American and Thai military personnel and participants from other Asian countries.
"This appears to be the first step on the part of the U.S. to re-engage Myanmar militarily and to wean it away from its reliance on China," said Jan Zalewski, an analyst covering Myanmar for IHS Global Insight, a research firm.
Washington's rapprochement with Myanmar's military has been carefully calibrated under the umbrella of humanitarian dialogue, the sources said, constituting one of the boldest rewards for Myanmar's new semi-civilian government after 49 years of direct military rule.
It is also seen as a first step toward U.S.-Myanmar military-to-military ties, cut off after 1988 when soldiers opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in a crackdown that killed or wounded thousands and led to the house arrest of democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi.
The expected invitation follows intense lobbying by Thailand, co-host of the exercise, the sources said.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said in Washington that any Myanmar participation in Cobra Gold would focus on humanitarian relief, disaster assistance and medical programs.
"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," Little said. Continued...