World news story

Head of the UK armed forces visits Burma

UK Chief of Defence Staff General Sir David Richards (the most senior serving officer in the British armed forces) visited Burma on 2 June to 4 June.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Meeting with Speaker of the Lower House Thura Shwe Man and opposition Leader NLD Chairman Aung San Suu Kyi

Meeting with Speaker of the Lower House Thura Shwe Man and opposition Leader NLD Chairman Aung San Suu Kyi

This was the first visit by the head of a Western country’s armed forces since the reform process began.

General Richards visited Nay Pyi Taw on 3 June, where he met President Thein Sein, Commander-in-Chief of the Burmese armed forces Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Speaker of the Upper House Khin Aung Myint, Speaker of the Lower House Thura Shwe Mann, Minister for the President’s Office Aung Min, and opposition leader NLD Chairman Aung San Suu Kyi. On 4 June in Rangoon, General Richards met ethnic minority leaders including Khun Htun Oo, Chairman of the Shan National League for Democracy. He also visited the Martyrs’ Mausoleum, and the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Htauk Kyant.

During his visit, General Richards discussed the role of the military in supporting Burma’s democratic transition, and the importance of security sector reform. He also discussed, both with government and ethnic leaders, the national peace and reconciliation process. He welcomed the progress made over the last two years in ending fighting across much of the country, and offered the UK government’s continued support for the process of political dialogue ahead.

General Richards confirmed that the UK would appoint a permanent Defence Attache to Burma in Autumn 2013 (following the appointment of a non-resident Defence Attache earlier this year). He also discussed the possibility of training cooperation between the two countries in the future.

General Richards said:

I came here to welcome the remarkable progress this country has made over the past two years, and to discuss how the UK can support all sides in overcoming the many challenges still ahead. I discussed frankly and openly with my military counterparts the importance of security sector reform, and the role of the armed forces in a democratic system. I was impressed and encouraged by the commitment expressed by all those I met to work together for a peaceful, stable and prosperous future.

Following General Richards’ visit, a UK joint military-civilian team comprising experts on Security Sector Reform, policing reform, and governance, arrived in Burma of 4 June for a two-week planning trip. They will meet a range of contacts from government, Parliament, ethnic groups and wider civil society, with the aim of identifying how the UK can further support Burma’s democratic reforms.

Further information

This was General Richards’ first visit to Burma. However, his father fought in Burma during the Second World War.

Biographical Note

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Published 5 June 2013