Cobra Gold: Myanmar gets invite to US-Thailand military exercises

US Marines sit together as they attend the opening ceremony for the annual combined military exercises coined Cobra Gold 2012 at Wing 1's Office Club in Nakorn Ratchasima province on February 7, 2012. About 13,000 military personnel from seven nations, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, US, Singapore, Japan and Malaysia were involved in the exercises until February 17.

Myanmar, long shuttered from US affairs due to its human rights abuses, may be invited to an annual US-Thai military drill to take place next year in Thailand.

The invitation will be extended "as long as it is consistent with US efforts to advance protection of human rights, civilian rule of the military, anti-corruption efforts and other reform issues," Pentagon press secretary George Little said in Washington Friday, according to the Associated Press

Known as Cobra Gold, the US military exercise is the largest and longest-standing in the Asia-Pacific region. This year's 31st annual drill, held in February, also featured members of the Indonesian, Japanese, Malaysian, Singaporean and South Korean militaries, AP reported.

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Thai Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Thanathip Sawangsang said that an invitation would be extended to Myanmar to observe the drill, but that the list of observers has not yet been finalized, BBC News reported.  Countries participating in the drill will meet late this month to come to a consensus on the final list of invitees, AP reported. 

Myanmar's participation would focus specifically on humanitarian relief, disaster assistance, and medical programs, Reuters reported

"This appears to be the first step on the part of the US to re-engage Myanmar militarily and to wean it away from its reliance on China," Jan Zalewski, an analyst covering Myanmar for IHS Global Insight, told Reuters.

This is the latest in a series of steps of rapprochement between Myanmar and the US: Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States was easing a longstanding imports ban on Myanmar. 

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Some, however, feel that it is too much, too soon. 

"Burma's military continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is shocking that the United States would invite them to military exercises," Mark Farmaner, director of advocacy group Burma Campaign UK, told Reuters.