Indonesia and ASEAN deepen complicity with Myanmar junta through naval exercises

December 10, 2021

On December 1-3, Indonesia hosted the first ASEAN-Russia Naval Exercise (ARNEX). The Myanmar military junta participated, sending the Kyansittha warship, under the command of Commodore Zaw Zaw Latt. The exercise helped develop the capabilities of the Myanmar military, which is continuing to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity with total impunity. The exercise also provided legitimacy to the illegal and murderous military junta, which is a terrorist organisation and is seeking international recognition.

According to junta-controlled media, the exercise involved joint tactical manoeuvring, signals training, communications and the interception of “suspicious vessels”. These skills directly support Myanmar naval operations that violate human rights, some of which have involved atrocity crimes.

The Myanmar Navy took part in the  2017 campaign of genocide against the Rohingya. Reuters reported that naval boats carried light infantry troops to northern Arakan State to launch their attacks against Rohingya people. Last year, the navy attacked a boat hired by the Red Cross to carry aid, killing one man and injuring two.

The navy also regularly intercepts boats carrying Rohingya people, subjecting those on board to human rights violations including arbitrary detention. In a recent incident, the navy detained 228 Rohingya people trying to flee persecution, including 33 children.

The naval exercise took place in the Strait of Malacca with ships launching from Balawan, where Indonesia has a major naval base. A gala reception was held on December 7. In addition to navies from Russia, Indonesia and the Myanmar junta, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand also joined the exercise, collaborating with Myanmar navy personnel.

The ASEAN-Russia Naval Exercise shows a deepening level of Indonesian and ASEAN complicity with the Myanmar military junta, and further calls into question ASEAN's willingness to pursue their five-point consensus, agreed to in an ASEAN Leaders' Meeting in Indonesia held in April, in which junta leader and war criminal Senior General Min Aung Hlaing participated. The first of the five points is for an "immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar". Not only has the military junta ignored this but they have intensified their terror campaign since April, with murders, mass arrests, torture, indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling. It is deplorable that amid this carnage, Indonesia and ASEAN see it as appropriate to provide direct support to the Myanmar Navy.

Justice For Myanmar calls on ASEAN to exclude the illegal military junta from all meetings, fora and events, and to engage with Myanmar's democratic and legitimate government, the National Unity Government.

ASEAN's abhorrent naval cooperation with the Myanmar military junta should send a strong signal to the international community that following ASEAN's lead on Myanmar is untenable. It is time for the international community to stop hiding behind ASEAN and take decisive action through the United Nations Security Council, with targeted sanctions, a global arms embargo and the referral of Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.