October 19, 2012 - 09:41 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The United States will invite Myanmar to the world's largest multinational military field exercise, a powerful symbolic gesture toward a military with a grim human rights record and a milestone in its rapprochement with the West, Reuters reported.
Myanmar has been invited to observe Cobra Gold, which brings together more than 10,000 American and Thai military personnel and participants from other Asian countries for joint annual maneuvers, officials from countries participating in the exercises said.
"It's significant. In the past, Myanmar has always been unhappy about this Cobra Gold, thinking that it was directed against them and was like a step towards invasion," said Dr Tin Maung Maung Than, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore and expert on Myanmar's military.
The invitation is part of a carefully calibrated re-engagement with Myanmar's military 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 towards 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 invitation came after intense lobbying by Thailand, co-host of the exercises, the sources said.
It follows a visit this week by a delegation led by Michael Posner, the U.S. State Department's top human rights official, to Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar, also known as Burma.