Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org. Please see www.dictatorwatch.org/chrono for links to the reports and photo essay described below.


10 February 2003

Dictator Watch announces the release of three new reports detailing Thailand’s support for the Burmese junta’s program of ethnic cleansing along their shared border. In addition, we have published a new photo essay, Reasons to be a Refugee, with information regarding refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), attacked villages, the use of porters resulting in death, and “Black Zones.”

This information is being published as a response to Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s visit to Burma February 9-10, and as a submission to the Free Burma Coalition’s national conference at George Washington University, Washington, D.C., February 15-16.

Regarding the reports, we have a number of questions to pose.

1. How many people have to die when Thailand loses face?

In October 1999, individuals from a group called the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors (VBSW) took over Burma’s embassy in Bangkok. This was a major news event, and it ended when the rebels negotiated a helicopter to take them to the border (using foreign tourists as hostages - see www.dictatorwatch.org/phmain for photos of the embassy takeover). At the border they stayed in an area occupied by another group, God’s Army (GA - which became famous because it was led by twin boys). GA was a resistance group composed of Karen soldiers. The Karen are an ethnic group that reside in the mountains that divide Thailand and Burma.

While some of the following is known, the full story of what happened next has never been told.

Thailand was outraged at this event. It was a significant loss of face for the country - that such an action could occur in downtown Bangkok. As described in the first report, The Fifty-Five That Disappeared, the Thai military shelled the area - inside Burma - where GA was based. This, together with a ground attack from the Burmese Army, was very effective. The GA and local villages in the area suffered great casualties. In a desperate response (which resulted in another major news story), about ten people from GA crossed into Thailand and took control of the Ratchaburi hospital, in an attempt to gain medical supplies and assistance. This ended, in the middle of the night, when Thai commandos stormed the hospital. All the people from GA were killed in the raid. Some accounts suggest that they surrendered, and were then executed by the commandos. This possibility, that they were summarily executed, has never been properly investigated.

While the VBSW and GA actions in Bangkok and Ratchaburi were unethical - criminal - it is noteworthy that no one, other than the members of GA, died as a result.

As described in the report, the balance of GA, and a large group of villagers from this area, then fled to the Thai border. At the border they were taken to Kaway Thote military post by soldiers from the Thai Army’s 9th Infantry Division. On 4 February 2000, 125 men were separated from the group. Subsequently, on 19 February, 55 of the 125, including nineteen GA soldiers and thirty-six ordinary villagers, were arrested. They have never been heard from since.

2. How many people have to suffer because of Thailand’s support for the Burmese dictatorship?

The second report, Sixty-Three Lives That Do Not Matter, Persecuted in Burma - Denied Sanctuary in Thailand, documents the sufferings of a group of Karen villagers who fled from the Burmese Army in October 2001, only to reach the Thai border and be denied admittance. This denial was in direct contravention of Thailand’s obligation, and historical practice, to admit refugees fleeing war. (Photography documenting the group is available at www.dictatorwatch.org/phmain.) The new report describes in detail their treatment at the hands of the Thai border authorities, and discusses their current, and still life-threatening, situation.

Also, the subjects of both these reports have been listed in a new filing to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights by the Asian Legal Resource Centre, on forced repatriation of IDPs from Thailand.

3. How far will Thailand go to assist the Burmese generals?

Dictator Watch has been given credible information that suggests the Burmese Army has established a military base on a mountainside inside Thailand. This information is presented in our third report, The Yielding of Thai Sovereignty.

Considering the many situations documented in the photo essay and the three reports, we have some additional questions, both for the Thai government and the Thai people?

For the Thai government:

- Which comes first, personal interests (PM Thaksin has a business deal with one of Burma’s leading generals), or the interests of the nation?
- Since Thailand is, at least in name, a democracy, why are you siding with the Burmese dictators against the ethnic groups and other organizations that reside along your border, and that are struggling for freedom and democracy?
- Is Thailand best served by siding with murderous dictatorships, including Burma and China, or through joining the global democratic community, including its efforts to secure human rights for all people?
- Is Thailand part of a neo-colonialist structure: Is it a colony of China, and is it in turn colonizing Burma, Laos and Cambodia?
- Is extra-judicial execution, including the use of Death Squads, or “Black Police,” ever an acceptable tactic, e.g., in Thailand’s current campaign against drugs?
- Does Thailand have a functioning rule of law, or is it a kleptocracy - a criminal state ruled by mafia gangs and warlords – that presents itself as a democracy to deceive its own people, and the international community?
- For PM Thaksin - you have wasted American aid in the fight against narcotics, you have business dealings with the criminals who are responsible therefor, and you have suspended Thai cooperation in the international effort against terrorism: What effect do you think these steps will have on Thailand’s relationships with its long-term allies, the U.S. and the E.U.?

For the Thai people:

- When you sell your votes, how can you possibly expect your “leaders” to serve your interests, instead of abusing their power?
- Should Thai natural habitats be preserved? If so, why do you persist in their destruction?
- What does it mean to be Thai? What is “Real Thai”? Are the ethnic groups in Thailand’s mountains Thai? What rights should they have?
- If you were a tourist from another country, would you visit Thailand?