Trust the Burmese junta at your peril
Trust the Burmese junta at your peril
After repeated lies, Thailand must be wary and diligent in dealing with its pariah neighbour
Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya made his first official visit to Burma last week. It was a familiarisation trip coupled with discussions on key bilateral issues including the political situation inside the country. His visit comes at a time when several nations including the US, members of the European Union and Nordic countries as well as Thailand are reviewing their policies towards Burma.
US diplomat Steven Blake, became the most senior official to visit Burma since 1997. These countries are looking for positive signs from the junta.
Any change in the Thai position will have implications both regionally and internationally. For the first time since 2001 the Thai policy on Burma will be scrutinised closely by the international community. So it is imperative that there should not be any loose talk or comments on Burma that could be damaging to the country’s reputation and interests.
During the trip, Kasit met with Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein and Foreign Minister Nyan Win to discuss the national reconciliation process. Thailand’s position is clear: that the process must be inclusive and must take into consideration all stakeholders.
Both Thailand and Asean have called repeatedly for the release of all political prisoners including the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But the Burmese regime has ignored the calls, making all kinds of excuses. So far, the junta has got away with it. Cyclone Nargis, which ripped through the country last year, was a blessing in disguise. It allowed the flexibility to help one of the world’s most repressive regimes with humanitarian aid.
The post-Nargis reconstruction in the months to come will obviously take the thunder away from the political debate, due to the common desire to provide humanitarian assistance to the Burmese people. Thailand and Asean welcomed the Burmese government’s decision to extend for another year the work of the tripartite core group, comprising representatives from Asean, the UN and Burma.
This will help the regime because it will shift the focus to reconstruction of the devastated areas.
An independent report issued recently by the Centre for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said that Burma’s ruling junta deliberately blocked aid to the victims of last year’s cyclone. The junta’s disregard for those who survived Nargis could amount to crimes against humanity under international law according to the report.
Currently, Burma is pursuing a 7-point road map, which was drawn up by former prime minister Khin Nyunt back in 2003 when he was in power. Since then he has been purged and disgraced and confined to house arrest, but his plan lives on. For Burma’s junta, next year’s election will be the ultimate step towards legitimising the regime, with a post-election government which it will dominate.
Thailand and Asean have called for a transparent, free and fair election. It has to be inclusive as well. Of course, nobody really believes the regime will respond to these appeals.
During the recent Asean Summit in Thailand, Asean leaders urged Burma to increase its cooperation with the UN. This week, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the confinement of Suu Kyi was illegal under Burmese law. She has spent more than 13 of the last 19 years under house arrest.
Last week, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, called on the junta to release more than 2,100 political prisoners.
The Burmese leaders have asked Thailand to help encourage the country’s ethnic minorities to take part in next year’s polls. These groups will take part in the election if they perceive it as an instrument for national reconciliation that will allow them to take part in a nation-building process. Thailand certainly can help but the answer lies with the regime in Burma and whether the electoral process, including the election laws, will be inclusive and fair.
The Abhisit government must be extremely careful in forging and building links with Burma. Previous Thai governments have submitted themselves to the junta’s countless manipulations because they were willing to give in to demands in order to maintain their vested interests. The only exception was the interim Surayud government of 2006-2007, when Thai-Burmese ties were at a standstill.
Prime Minister Abhisit and Foreign Minister Kasit have reiterated that the government has no ulterior motive but a genuine desire to see the realisation of national reconciliation in Burma, with all stakeholders involved. It is imperative for Thailand to review its Burmese policy and come up with credible proposals that all Asean members will be able to support. Any Burmese policy supported by the Asean countries will be able to win kudos from the international community.
It is a great opportunity to do so now.