Friday, December 26, 2008

Thailand’s Burma Policy Set to Change under New Premier

The Irrawaddy News

In a recent series of interviews with the international media, the new prime minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has indicated that the Kingdom’s Burma policy is likely to involve a more proactive stance on human rights issues in the military-ruled country.

In an interview with the Qatar-based Al Jazeera news network, Abhisit said that he would try to convince fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) of the importance of human rights to the international community.

Unless Asean’s efforts to enshrine human rights are credible in the eyes of the international community, “the grouping will not be able to achieve its objectives,” he added.

On Burma, Abhisit stressed the need for Asean and the West to find common ground.
“The West and Asean have a common objective. We want to bring good change in Myanmar [Burma],” he said.

Thailand’s new foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, has also indicated that the new administration would depart from the business-oriented polices that often determined the direction of the Kingdom’s Burma policy under recent governments.

Speaking at an academic conference on December 19, Kasit said that Thailand would now run “an ethical foreign policy,” in contrast to that of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his hand-picked successors.

“From now on, there will be no personal business dealings on the side. This government will not mix business and politics,” he said. “We shall have no [personal] business deals with the [Burmese] junta; we shall observe human rights and environmental concerns; we shall treat Burmese as we do Thais.”

Before Abhisit became prime minister, he was also outspoken about Burma on several occasions. In September 2006, he told The Leaders, an online publication, that Asean recognizes that no problem can be considered a purely domestic problem, because any problem that occurs in a member state affects the whole association.

“Thailand and other Asean members should really push for an agenda that shows that we respect human rights and key principles upheld by the international community,” he said.

In another sign of Abhisit’s interest in the views of those calling for a stronger stand on human rights issues, on December 13, two days before he was named prime minister, he met with a number of exiled Burmese politicians at a conference in Bangkok.

It appears that Abhisit is set to follow the example of Thailand’s last Democrat prime minister, Chuan Leekpai, who did not visit military-ruled Burma during his administration from late 1997 to early 2001. Thai prime ministers usually visit Burma as a part of tour of Asean’s 10 member countries soon after taking office.

In 1999, during the Chuan administration, Burmese dissidents in Thailand staged a bold siege of the Burmese embassy in Bangkok, and early the next year seized control of a public hospital in the border province of Ratchaburi.

On the Burmese embassy capture, then Thai Interior Minister Sanan Kachonprasart said that he didn’t regard the attackers as terrorists, but rather as students who were seeking democracy in their homeland.

“They are not terrorists. They are students who fight for democracy,” said Sanan, who is returning to power as a deputy prime minister in Abhisit’s Democrat-led coalition government.

Thailand’s response to the embassy takeover—it defused the crisis by transporting the hostage takers to the border in a government helicopter—angered the Burmese generals, who closed all border checkpoints to Thailand and lifted Thai fishing concessions in Burmese waters without any prior notice.

Chuan’s administration also moved away from Asean’s policy of “constructive engagement” with the Burmese regime, when then Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan proposed in July 1999 that the bloc adopt a more proactive “flexible engagement” policy.

“Flexible engagement was about open and frank discussion about such issues [as human rights], leading to cooperative solutions—a pooling of sovereignty rather than its dilution, so as to make Southeast Asia a secure and prosperous region,” noted Amitav Acharya, an expert on international relations, in July 2007.

The Democrats’ approach to Burmese issues contrasts starkly with that of former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, of the pro-Thaksin People’s Power Party. Samak visited Burma at least twice during his brief administration, which ended in September when a court decision forced him to step down.

Following a state visit in March, Samak returned to Thailand full of praise for the Burmese generals, describing them as devout Buddhists who practiced mediation and prayed every morning.

In an interview with Thailand’s Chanel 11, he even excused the regime’s brutal treatment of protesters: “Killings and suppression are normal there, but we have to know the facts,” he said.

READ MORE---> Thailand’s Burma Policy Set to Change under New Premier...

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