Today’s Australian brings the remarkable news that Australia has been providing “counter-terrorist training” to the military dictatorship in Burma (also called Myanmar). Kudelka’s front page cartoon says it all: a Burmese military student asks his Australian instructor, “So, how would you defend Burma against an attempt to install a democracy?”

On one level, there’s nothing new: “war on terror” has been an opportunity for repressive regimes all over the world to take advantage of western aid and approval to crush their own dissident movements – in Chechnya, Uzbekistan, southern Thailand and many more.

Burma, however, is one of the worst – for anyone who thought Saddam Hussein was toppled because of his human rights record, it would be mysterious why the Burmese junta has been left alone. And now Australia has blood on its hands: “Burmese officers have attended [Australian-run] courses in major investigation management, post-blast incident management and the international management of serious crime.”

It’s hardly necessary to point out that in Burma, defence of democracy and human rights is a “serious crime”.

Greg Sheridan, in the accompanying comment piece, is refreshingly blunt in his condemnation of Burma’s rulers: “by a vast distance, the worst regime in Southeast Asia in terms of gross human rights abuses.” (He has not always been so forthright in condemning Asian dictatorships.) But that just makes his attitude to the “counter-terrorism” support all the more shocking.

Sheridan assumes that the junta shares a common interest with Australia in combatting “terrorism”. But the old adage that one person’s “terrorist” is another’s “freedom fighter” could never be more true than in relation to Burma.

The sort of terrorists who might attack Australia are hardly like to worry Burma, whereas the threat that Burma’s rulers are most concerned about comes from people who are our natural allies.

To ignore these considerations in the name of a mythical monolithic “terrorist” threat is real head-in-the-sand stuff. Sheridan thinks that when the Burmese want more assistance, “we’d be ill-advised to decline.” Well, unless Howard and Downer were serious about the neocon dream of promoting democracy.

Peter Fray

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