Sunday, October 3, 2010

Burma's elections to test Thai will

Was Kasit's threat to return refugees after the poll a joke?

The general election orchestrated by the Burmese military regime, come November 7, will provide the much needed instruments for all concerned to adopt a variety of exit strategies regarding Naypyidaw. Again, the Burmese generals, especially General Than Shwe, have the correct reading on international hypocrisy and lack of conviction - explaining why they can outlast short-lived global sentiment and repeatedly deploy the same strategies over and over again. Just take as an example the latest measure to free opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi - a week after the poll.

Western countries which used to preach democracy and human rights are now in limbo because Burma is opening up with new plans to run the country with those same generals in civilian clothes. After more than two decades of engagement, they are suffering from severe fatigue related to Burma. Like Asean, they all want out of the quagmire as soon as possible. The love-hate poll has indeed become a necessary evil for all. After all, both the US and Europe want to do business and invest in Burma's energy sector and counter China's influence inside the country. Deep down, the generals' flirting with nuclear proliferation also worries the Western powers.

Doubtless, Burma - as it understands the helplessness of both regional and international communities - is astutely playing real politics. The final stage of the seven-point roadmap of installing a regime with new clothes could be accomplished within this year. It's regrettable the international community does not have an audacity of purpose and perseverance like the Burmese generals.

But the most disturbing aspect of all these exit strategies is the Thai attitude towards post-election Burma. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told a US audience recently that Thailand had a plan to repatriate Burmese refugees and those in exile back to Burma. He said that the Thai government would even assist in their return to "half-democratic" Burma. Kasit, who used to be one of the strongest champions of Burmese in exile here, must be kidding saying that in front of a Washington audience. Obviously, he is testing local and international opinion regarding the future of an estimated four-million Burmese living in various capacities and status.
Thailand has been a haven for refugees from neighbouring countries since World War II. The Indo-China crisis in the 1970's saw more than three million refugees cross over to Thailand. Somehow we managed it and were given credit for their complete repatriation. By all means, we should continue to extend our hospitality to all of them. Certainly, there are ways to improve the lives of these people and ensure their eventual return to their homelands. However, international support must be forthcoming as the Thai government does not have sufficient resources to maintain them long-term.

The Abhisit government has made clear that it respects human rights and integrity of all concerned, including those residing in Thailand. The prime minister must make sure he follows every word he has uttered in the past. He should reiterate this message during his one-day visit to Burma on October 11 to impress on Burmese junta leaders that the world and Asean are watching the upcoming poll. Thailand, under his leadership, must not and should not tolerate any undemocratic exercise in Burma that would eventually lead to cross-border problems. The Nation, Bangkok

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