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Bangkok Post(25/5/99)

<center><bold>We've been soiled by engagement</bold>=20


In championing Burma's membership of Asean, Thailand led us to believe
that somehow a process of drawing Burma into closer alliance with more
democratic nations would produce positive results in terms of greater
freedoms within Burma. So where are we now?All reports from inside Burma,
from refugees fleeing Burma, and from informed NGO workers and human
rights activists indicate that the situation inside Burma is worse than
it has been at any time since the 1988 crackdown. A recent videotape
message from Aung San Suu Kyi confirms this.

Now we read that an important labour conference has to be postponed, or
cancelled, because someone may say something derogatory about the labour
situation in Burma, causing a loss of face to the dictatorship there.

A stroll through the market in any large city in Burma will quickly
confirm why Thailand sees Burma as an important trading partner, so of
course self-interest plays a role in protecting what precious little is
left of Burma's reputation. But at what expense?Can Thailand really
expect to play a major role in world trade when it cannot maintain an
above-board relationship with its neighbour? Does the Thai government
really believe that by hiding its head in the sand and preventing others
from speaking freely that anyone actually will believe that the
abominable human rights violations, including forced labour, are any
less? Has so called constructive engagement enabled such a bleak
situation in Burma that Thai authorities are even afraid to let free
people speak of it?And now it seems the relationship between our freely
elected government and the squalid gang of thugs in Burma is so important
as to jeopardise our relationship with the European Union. Is there no
shame in having friends so disgusting that free countries will not even
sit at the same table as us?In the end evil never triumphs. This will be
proved true of the dictatorship presently oppressing the people of Burma.
When freedom and democracy come to Burma, I hope the new leaders never
forget the role of Thailand in supporting the present regime.

As a child, my mother told me: "You will be judged by the company you
keep." Does the Thai government really think it can be bedfellows with
someone as filthy as the Burmese dictatorship and not get soiled? In the

case of Burma, the most constructive engagement would be disengagement.