Straight to the Point
I was going to begin the series by expressing my views on our government's suffocation of internet freedom, but that will have to wait till next week. The present situation in Burma (officially called "Myanmar" by the governing military junta) requires me to urgently call upon our government (established by our own home-made military junta) to relinquish its wimpish "non-interference" position on the Burmese domestic situation, and tell the Burmese regime in no uncertain terms that any use of violence to crackdown on the peaceful mass demonstrations for democracy and social justice taking place all over country will be completely unacceptable to Thailand. The ASEAN community as a whole should also openly press the junta to defuse the situation by releasing Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and to immediately hold negotiations with her and other political leaders on a new time-table for rapid transition to democracy. This is the only peaceful way out left to the military regime, and is in the full interest of stability and peace, not only in Burma, but throughout the region.
As a former member of the Senate, I am a member of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC). We are the first grouping of parliamentarians from all countries in ASEAN (except Laos and Vietnam for the time-being) who actively campaign together to support democracy in Burma. We try not to be hypocritical by also recognising the need to promote democratic reforms in our own countries. We believe that ASEAN countries cannot realistically adhere to the present policy of "non-interference" in one another's internal affairs. This is because events in one country often affect its neighbours and sometimes the whole region. One example is the yearly forest fires in Indonesia that have caused severe smog in Singapore, Malaysia, and southern Thailand. Another is the violent situation in the southern border provinces of Thailand that obviously affects Malaysia. AIPMC believes that ASEAN countries should get into the habit of discussing and expressing opinions on internal issues within a member country where those issues affect fundamental human rights within the country, the welfare of people in other countries of the region, or the ASEAN community as a whole.
No-one can really argue with the fact that the domestic situation in Burma has had immense impact on the ASEAN community as a whole, and particularly on Thailand. Thailand hosts over 300,000 Burmese refugees due to gross violations of human rights, mass violence and rape, and forced internal displacement of rural communities by the Burmese military. We also host over two million migrant workers from Burma (both documented and undocumented) due to the severe economic hardships within the country. Communicable diseases (some previously extinct here) are crossing the border due to the lack of proper health services in Burma. Illicit drugs are smuggled across the border for mass consumption in Thailand. Our military has to keep its forces concentrated on protecting the border with Burma. How can anyone possibly say that the domestic situation in Burma is none of our business? Is our government prepared to keep silent and meekly allow yet another violent crack-down on mass demonstrations which could result in a new wave of refugees coming to Thailand?
The welfare of the people of Burma is twined with the welfare of the ASEAN community as a whole. The peaceful marches and rallies across Burma, led by the Buddhist monks, are an exciting move by the Burmese people to claim their democratic rights. However, successive military regimes have consistently suppressed such movements with violent force. Democracy supporters across the world are holding back their breath. Now is the right time for the Thai government and all ASEAN governments to speak out.
Jon Ungphakorn is a former elected senator for Bangkok and at present the Chairman of the Thai NGO Coordinating Committee on Development. Comments are welcome at: email@example.com
*First published in Bangkok Post