Bangkok – Thailand’s accommodating attitude towards Myanmar may undermine its relations with the United States. According to The Nation, the US Congress is planning to put Thailand under scrutiny over issues such as the repatriation of Myanmar refugees and violations of human rights.
Congress is expected to hold a debate in the next few weeks over the Burma Freedom and Democracy Act before a vote on its renewal. The law, which has banned all Myanmar exports to the US since 2003, is expected to be renewed because the situation in the country has worsened.
The newspaper quoted sources as saying that the debate will again focus on Thailand’s support of Yangon’s military junta. Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s business interests in Myanmar will also be questioned.
According to the sources, Mr Thaksin’s reputation and credibility in the eyes of US lawmakers has been further diminished by the erosion of freedom of expression in Thailand.
Analysts in Washington have noted that Mr Thaksin has not made an official trip to Washington since his 2003 visit, which was upgraded to working-visit status at the last minute – a sign that the Bush administration does not have the same level of comfort with him as it has with several other Asean leaders.
Senior US administration officials have praised Mr Thaksin’s quick and decisive response to assist the Dec 26 tsunami victims. But his record of human-rights violations, especially the extra-judicial killing of drug suspects and his handling of the southern violence, has raised eyebrows in Washington.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are also concerned over Thailand's policy of pushing back Myanmar refugees. Hundreds out of the 3,000 Myanmarexiles waiting for asylum in third countries have been forcibly transferred to refugee camps in Thailand since the end of March. Many who have failed to cooperate have been treated as illegal immigrants and deported.
US lawmakers say Mr Thaksin’s strong backing of the Yangon regime strengthens the military dictatorship and Congress is expected to increase pressure onThailand to change its course.
* US-Thai relations: Ties could turn sour over Burma (The Nation, April 18)