Military junta's officials studying in NZ

Three government officials from Myanmar's military junta are studying English in New Zealand at the taxpayers' expense.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully confirmed yesterday he had agreed that three officials could study here, and more were likely to arrive, the Dominion Post reported.

The move was condemned by an Otago academic, who said the officials could possibly be complicit in the internationally condemned military regime.

"(The regime) are not going to be sending dissidents," Otago University professor Kevin Clements, from the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies said.

Formerly Burma, Myanmar is governed by a military regime that persecutes opponents.

Burma Corss-Party Parliamentary Group chairwoman Maryan Street, a Labour MP said New Zealand "should not be doing anything to prop up that administration".

Ms Street said officials studying here could spy on refugees, leading to possible persecution of families in Burma.

"This is not the same as providing humanitarian support and assistance and training for people who are going back to help develop their country."

Mr McCully, who previously called Myanmar rulers the "butchers of Burma", said he allowed the move after a review of the country's involvement in the English Language Training for Officials scheme.

When asked to justify his apparent change of heart towards Myanmar rulers, Mr McCully said it was "consistent with the international community."

The move was in line with an international efforts, led by the United States, to increase engagement with Myanmar in preparation for a possible democratic election.

Each participant in the scheme cost the government about $35,000 to educate over six months, Mr McCully said.

Since 1998, about 35 Myanmar officials have visited New Zealand.

Labour foreign affairs spokesman Chris Carter said it was important to show Myanmar officials how democracy should work.

Greens' foreign affairs spokesman Keith Locke said including Myanmar in the scheme was "betrayal" to its people.

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