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DOD, State Department Pursue Peace, Reform in Burma

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2013 – The Defense and State departments will continue to implement a strategy for “careful, calibrated” reengagement with the Burmese military in pursuit of peace, a senior Pentagon official told the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific here yesterday.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Vikram J. Singh said the military in Burma remains critical to the ultimate success of reform efforts and a full transition to democracy.

“The Burmese military is positioned to continue supporting the government’s reform program and is interested in taking steps to modernize, professionalize and reform itself,” Singh said.

The reengagement, witnesses explained, is part of an overall plan to bring reconciliation to Burma, also known as Myanmar, which is torn by sectarian strife.

But, Singh said, U.S. government officials remain cognizant that the Burmese military retains a prominent role in political and economic life.

“It is very clear that a meaningful and sustainable transition for this country and for its military will take many years,” he said.

Given the complexities of the military’s role in Burma, U.S. policy supports continued encouragement for reform and enhancement in the military’s ability to respect human rights and civilian authority and control, Singh explained.

“The steps … are in line with the recommendations of a range of Burmese stakeholders, including members of the opposition and ethnic groups, who urge us to carefully engage the armed forces to build their support for the reform agenda and to help the military itself modernize and transform,” he said.

Although diplomatic engagements with Burma in recent years have been limited, relations have evolved following exchanges by the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies on human rights law and the Law of Armed Conflict, Singh said.

“Our limited engagements … have begun to expose the military to international norms of behavior and foster some new trust and understanding,” he said.

As such, DOD and State Department officials see value in engagements that would support institutional changes required to promote better civil military relations, increased transparency and greater civilian oversight, Singh said.

Engagement efforts include targeted education and training related to civilian control of the military, military justice improvement in accordance with internationally recognized human rights, proper management of defense resources and cooperation between the police and military for counter-narcotics.

“Under current sanctions, we lack any kind of dedicated mechanism for this kind of reform-oriented engagement with the Burmese military,” Singh said.

Singh acknowledged there may be initial skepticism in the efficacy of reform efforts but he nonetheless remains confident in a positive outcome.

“We do believe we have an opportunity to engage for the first time in decades with a military and government in Burma open to implementing reforms and accepting U.S. advice to that end,” he said.

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleAFPS)


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