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Bkk Post-We've been soiled by engag

Subject: Bkk Post-We've been soiled by engagement

Bangkok Post May 25, 1999.

We've been soiled by engagement

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

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.

Somchai MacGillivary