Theresa May has announced that the UK will suspend the training of Burmese military amid concerns about the treatment of the Muslim Rohingya population.
Speaking at the UN general assembly in New York, she said the UK would end all engagement with the Burmese military until military action against civilians in Rakhine state had stopped.
The prime minister has been under pressure to halt the programme since the country’s army was accused of driving hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh.
“We are very concerned about what’s happening to the Rohingya people in Burma. The military action against them must stop,” May said. “We have seen too many vulnerable people having to flee for their lives. Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese government need to make it very clear that the military action should stop.
Asked if the action was coordinated with international allies, May said: “There has been very clear international concern about the issue of the Rohingya people and what is happening to them.
“I was discussing this yesterday in Canada with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The British government believes we must show our concern, and that’s why we are going to stop all defence engagement and training of the Burmese military by the Ministry of Defence until this issue is satisfactorily resolved.”
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the top UN official on human rights, said earlier this month that Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya minority appeared to be a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing.
The UK programme in Myanmar does not include combat training but is aimed at educating soldiers in democracy, leadership and the English language at a cost of around £305,000 last year.
Last week, Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, said the violence against Rohingya Muslims was “obviously unacceptable” but refused to confirm the programme was ending.
“Our ambassador has made representations to that effect to the Burmese regime,” he said at the time.
Earlier on Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize winner who leads Myanmar, broke her silence on the crisis but did not criticise the army.