RANGOON – The Armidale Class Patrol Boat HMAS Childers and about 21 sailors will steam into Yangon (Rangoon) harbour on Monday for a four-day goodwill visit en-route to Bangladesh and a multinational naval exercise in India.
Australia has been a leading advocate of closer engagement with Myanmar’s government, which has ruled Burma with an iron fist since 1962, following the release from house arrest of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
It follows Ms Suu Kyi’s first visit to Australia late last year, when the presidential hopeful and National League for Democracy leader called on foreign governments to take a long-term view of her country as it works to shed the vestiges of a brutal military regime.
Acting defence minister George Brandis said the ship visit was a tangible example of warming defence ties between the two nations in the wake of Burma’s democratic reforms that began in 2011.
The Australian sailors will conduct professional and cultural exchanges with counterparts from the Burmese Navy during the visit to Burma’s biggest port.
The Childers will then set sail for the port of Chittagong in Bangladesh before she arrives in Indian waters for a humanitarian exercise in the Bay of Bengal.
The patrol boat will be away from her base in Cairns for about four months.
It will be one of the longest passages ever conducted by a 56-metre patrol boat.
The boats have a range of about 5500km at 12 knots and a top speed of 25 knots. Their main roles are patrolling people smuggling and poaching operations across northern Australia.
The visit is part of the Abbott Government’s shift in strategic focus to the Indian Ocean.
Thawing relations with Burma and cementing ties with India is part of a broader security envelope to the nation’s west being developed by military experts.
The United Nations last week hailed Burma’s move towards ending the use of child soldiers as a “historic step”.
The formerly junta-run nation released 96 children and young people from its armed forces – bringing a total of 272 in the past 18 months.
Ending rights violations is a key demand of the international community, which has embraced reforms in Burma since the end of outright junta rule in 2011.