Next month’s meeting is focused on maritime security and will include exercises to tackle the smuggling of people, drugs and weapons.
The Myanmar military, which seized power in a coup two years ago, has been invited to take part in a regional military meeting co-chaired by Thailand and the United States.
The five-day ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) Experts’ Working Group on Maritime Security is due to start on February 20 and will also include “table top” exercises.
Myanmar Now, an independent online publication focusing on Myanmar which reported the invitation on Monday, said it had received leaked documents showing the theoretical drills were designed to address search and rescue, piracy, and the smuggling of drugs, weapons and people.
Lieutenant Colonel Martin Meiners, a spokesperson for the US Department of Defense, told Myanmar Now that the Myanmar military had been invited in accordance with ASEAN protocols.
“Attendance at ASEAN forums is determined by ASEAN member states,” Meiners told the outlet.
As well as the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the meeting will include representatives from dialogue partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, and the US.
ASEAN has struggled with how to handle Myanmar amid the ruling generals’ failure to deliver on a plan that was supposed to end the violence triggered by the February 1, 2021 coup, and create the conditions for dialogue.
The association has barred senior representatives of the Myanmar military from its main summits, but after two years of bloodshed some member countries are calling on ASEAN to engage with the National Unity Government (NUG) established by the elected politicians the generals removed when they seized power.
There were hopes that Indonesia, which took over the rotating chairmanship from Cambodia for 2023, would take a tougher line on Myanmar.
Jakarta has favoured engagement with NUG and in November its president, Joko Widodo, called for the ban on the generals to be extended beyond ASEAN’s main summits.
The military under Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has said it will hold elections by August this year.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s elected leader and most popular politician, has been sentenced to jail for more than 30 years following a series of secretive trials.
Myanmar joined ASEAN in 1997 under a previous military regime.