Australia ends defence cooperation with Myanmar amid ‘escalating violence and rising death toll’

Australia suspended its defence cooperation programme with Myanmar amid concern about the “escalating violence and rising death toll,” Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said.

Myanmar was plunged into turmoil after the army detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and officials from her National League for Democracy party on February 1 and seized control of the country. The coup has triggered mass protests, daily strikes and indiscriminate police fire that has left dozens of anti-coup protesters dead.

“We continue to strongly urge the Myanmar security forces to exercise restraint and refrain from violence against civilians,” Payne said.

Australia’s bilateral defence ties with Myanmar’s military are restricted to non-combat areas such as English-language training which have continued even after the brutal crackdown in Rakhine state in 2017 that led hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

The Burma Campaign said that the 12 countries still providing training to Myanmar’s military include China, India, Pakistan and Ukraine. Campaigners are calling for a complete arms embargo on the country.

Australia will also redirect immediate humanitarian needs to the mostly Muslim Rohingya and other ethnic minorities, Payne said on Monday and bypass Myanmar government bodies.

“We have also looked at the development programme and development support that we are providing and redirected that with an absolute focus on the immediate needs of some of the most vulnerable and poor in Myanmar which is one of the poorest countries in ASEAN,” Payne was quoted as saying by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.