Australia pulls out of ASEAN counter-terrorism meeting co-chaired by Myanmar military and Russia

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Australia will not participate in an upcoming counter-terrorism meeting to be co-chaired by the Myanmar and Russian militaries, Australian defense officials have confirmed.

The meeting, to be held in Moscow on July 20-21, will bring together representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their partners as part of the meeting of defense ministers of the ‘ASEAN-Plus (ADMM-Plus) Experts’ Counter-Terrorism Working Group.

Australia ruled out in-person and virtual participation. It will be the first time Australia has missed a meeting since the ADMM-Plus Expert Working Groups program was established in 2011.

Defense officials from other countries scheduled to join the meeting, including India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the United States, declined to comment on their attendance when asked. been contacted by Myanmar Now.

Last month, New Zealand news outlet Newsroom quoted a defense official in that country as saying that while he condemned both the actions of Myanmar’s military junta and Russian President Vladimir Putin, it was up to ASEAN to decide who would participate in its rallies.

“We respect ASEAN’s role as the organizer of this process. We cannot unilaterally make decisions about how other members participate in these forums,” the manager said.

Myanmar and Russia took over the joint chairmanship of the counter-terrorism task force in early 2021 for a three-year term, following a handover ceremony in December 2020 in Bangkok.

As co-chairs, the military of Myanmar and Russia are planning both field training and table-top exercises for later this year, which will involve the participation of armed forces from ADMM-Plus countries.

The ADMM-Plus group includes the 10 ASEAN member states, plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

Australia’s decision to boycott this year’s meeting comes amid concerns over how Myanmar’s junta used its position as co-chair to advance its agenda at last year’s meeting.

Through an Freedom of Information request submitted to the Australian Department of Defense by activist group Justice For Myanmar, the government also revealed disagreements within the ADMM-Plus group over Myanmar’s role .

In an email with talking points for a working group meeting held in Naypyitaw in December 2021, an official said that “Russia… objected to changes to the June minutes calling on Myanmar to stop violence “.

At the meeting, which took place via videoconference, Myanmar’s military included a session on “terrorist attacks threatening national security in Myanmar”, during which it claimed that groups opposed to its regime, in particular the shadow government of national unity and its armed wing, the Defense Force, must be considered as terrorist organisations.

According to a Ministry of Defense cable on the meeting, the Australian participants “expressed concern that Myanmar is confusing opposition to the military coup with terrorism” and reiterated calls for an end to the violence, in line with the five-point consensus reached by ASEAN in April last year.

In May, an investigation of ADMM and the Counter-Terrorism Task Force published by Justice for Myanmar concluded that “ASEAN’s concrete assistance and support to the Myanmar military likely amounted to aiding and abetting genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the military”. .”

Justice For Myanmar applauded Australia’s decision not to attend next month’s working group meeting.

“We welcome Australia’s principled stance, which should send a strong message to fellow ADMM-Plus members,” the group’s spokesperson, Yadanar Maung, told Myanmar Now.

“Myanmar’s military junta is a terrorist organization and has no place in a counterterrorism group. We call on ASEAN to immediately revoke the junta co-chairmanship and exclude junta representatives from all future meetings. If ASEAN does not act, ADMM-Plus countries must follow Australia’s lead and boycott,” she added.

Junta Defense Minister General Mya Tun Oo is currently in Cambodia to participate in the 16th ADMM meeting and informal ADMM meetings with Chinese and Japanese counterparts, in the midst of the civil society opposition and disagreements within the bloc over how to respond to the Myanmar crisis.

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