U-TAPAO AIR BASE, Thailand -- Thailand and the United States downplayed the presence of a Burmese military officer at the opening Tuesday of the largest annual joint military exercise in Southeast Asia.
Burma's military has been accused of human-rights violations in its crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority, who have fled by the hundreds of thousands to neighboring Bangladesh. U.S. lawmakers had demanded Burma's exclusion from the exercise.
"The truth is Myanmar is not a participant nation," U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies told reporters at the Cobra Gold exercise in eastern Thailand. "They're not part of the exercises here." He did not explain the Burmese officer's attendance.
Burma is often called Myanmar, a name that military authorities adopted in 1989. Some nations, such as the United States and Britain, have refused to adopt the name change.
Thai Gen. Thanchaiyan Srisuwan acknowledged inviting Burma to the opening ceremony. However, Burma's flag was not flown.
Last week, the Pentagon and U.S. State Department said Thailand had invited up to three Burmese officers to observe the part of the drills focused on responding to natural disasters. But Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday that the only Burmese officer in attendance was a deputy military attache who is an army major. The officer attended the opening ceremony, along with other members of the defense attache corps in Bangkok, he said.
"Beyond this, no Burmese officers are participating or otherwise observing any parts of Cobra Gold," Logan said.
It was not immediately clear what changed the earlier plan for Burmese observers, but it followed criticism from Republican and Democrat members of Congress over the invitation to Burma. Sen. John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said "militaries engaged in ethnic cleansing should not be honing their skills alongside U.S. troops." He was referring to accounts of atrocities committed by Burmese troops.
A U.S. statement said 11,075 service members from 29 countries are taking part in this year's exercise, with Thailand, the U.S., Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia the seven main participants.
The exercise includes humanitarian components, such as evacuation drills, as well as traditional military exercises such as amphibious landings.
Disaster relief has assumed a high profile in recent years, especially after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in 14 countries. Multinational forces mobilized for relief efforts after that crisis, as they did again on a more limited scale after 2008's Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma, killing upward of 130,000 people.
Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Pennington of The Associated Press.
A Burmese soldier attends Tuesday’s opening ceremony for the joint military exercises.
A Section on 02/14/2018
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