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     Volume 8 Issue 90 | October 16, 2009 |

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Confusing Stance

US stance of Myanmar (Burma) has remained confusing

A recent seminar at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok brought together academics, diplomats and government officials to discuss Thailand's relations with Myanmarese in light of some interesting developments. Ideas were presented, especially about the need for Thailand and Asean, as well as the United Nations, to review their policies following the United States' decision to ease its stance towards one of the world's most brutal regimes.

Dialogue with the junta should be welcome. But it should not be an open-ended invitation to the generals.

Of course, no one expected the seminar to come up with a conclusive set of recommendations after just a few hours of discussion among people with similar views and intentions, but who differ as to how their objectives should be reached.

Some argued that the crisis inside Myanmar is an internal problem and that we need to respect the Asean principle of non-interference. Others rightly pointed out that just about everything that takes place inside Myanmar- drug production, insurgency and refugees, human rights violations, migrant workers fleeing poverty and persecution (and the list goes on) - affects Thailand.

But the problem with Thailand is that administration after administration cannot seem to prioritise what is important in their relations with Myanmar. The current administration placed Myanmarese democratisation and human rights high on its agenda, while the governments of Thaksin Shinawatra and his proxies paid lip service to issues like narcotics and refused to hold the Myanmarese junta accountable for the activities of drug armies operating freely inside Myanmar and on the Thai border. Instead, those Thai governments chose to gun down nearly 3,000 Thai citizens in the name of a "drug war" while negotiating lucrative business deals with the junta.

No wonder the Myanmarese generals never take Thailand seriously. Thais don't seem to see that our demand for cheap gems and labour, not to mention lucrative logging and fishery concessions, paves the way for gross human rights violations. It was pointed out that the natural resources we want are located in areas where some of the worst atrocities are committed, be it forcible eviction of ethnic minorities or the use of rape as a war weapon. The Myanmarese army is the guilty party.

The Myanmarese junta is accountable for the activities of drug armies who operate freely inside Myanmar and on the Thai border.

These atrocities inside Myanmar continue as the United States is changing its tune on the issue of isolating the regime, although in real terms no one knows what this means. We see pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talking to government representatives. But can this be billed as a step in the right direction? Let's not count our chickens before the eggs have hatched.

Yes, dialogue with the junta should be welcome. But it should not be an open-ended invitation to the generals. If it is to be a carrot-stick approach, Washington is going to have to spell out exactly what it expects of the junta - like a free and fair election and/or the release of all political prisoners - and state clearly what the generals will get in return.

A stable Myanmar is good for Thailand. But Thailand has for too long been at the receiving end of Burma's internal problems: the suppression of the Myanmarese people, clashes with rebel groups, the lack of good governance and the influx of illegal workers and refugees.

The Nation (Thailand)/ANN