Australia announces military aid for Myanmar during visit by President Thein Sein (VIDEO)


Prime Minister Julia Gillard (L) and the President of Myanmar Thein Sein speak to the press at Parliament House in Canberra March 18, 2013.



Hosting a historic visit by President Thein Sein of Myanmar, Australian announced Monday that it would be lifting some restrictions on military ties to recognize "critical reforms."

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Australia would post a defense attache and a trade commissioner in Myanmar — the latest move by a Western government to drop or ease sanctions against Myanmar since its military stepped aside in 2011.

Thein Sein, who is the first Myanmar head of state to visit Australia since 1974, is credited with being the driving force behind liberalization policies in his country since elections and the installation of a quasi-civilian government.

However, the Myanmar government is still bound by a constitution drafted by military leaders, and reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for military personnel.

Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency.

Reuters quoted Gillard as saying at a press conference with Thein Sein at Australia's parliament:

"What we've done today is taken a first step on defense relations between our two countries. It is not fully normalizing defense relationships."

According to the Bangkok Post, Gillard said Canberra was increasing its support — which includes military humanitarian aid and peacekeeping, but excludes arms sales — to recognize the reforms.

"As a close neighbor, Australia will benefit from a more open and prosperous Myanmar that is fully integrated into the region. Australia's commitment to expand its constructive engagement with Myanmar recognizes the unprecedented process of change underway there towards political freedom and the new opportunity this brings to help promote the prosperity of Myanmar and its people."

The Australian newspaper wrote that Australia would also provide $20 million over two years to help strengthen Myanmar democratic institutions, promote human rights and advance the rule of law.

And Australia would help Myanmar develop a sustainable and equitable mining sector.

Ms Gillard said Australia recognized the unprecedented process towards political freedom in Myanmar, and "President Thein Sein's leadership in driving these critical reforms."