05BANGKOK2088 THE AMBASSADOR\’S MEETING WITH THAI NSC SECRETARY GENERAL WINAI
“29385”,”3/23/2005 9:24″,”05BANGKOK2088″,”Embassy Bangkok”,
“CONFIDENTIAL”,””,”This record is a partial extract of the original cable.
The full text of the original cable is not available.
“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 002088
DEPARTMENT FOR EAP, PRM, EAP/BCLTV. GENEVA FOR RMA. HQ
USPACOM FOR FPA (HUSO)
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/22/2015
TAGS: PREF, PREL, PTER, PGOV, TH, BM, BURMA, Refugee
SUBJECT: THE AMBASSADOR\’S MEETING WITH THAI NSC SECRETARY
Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce. Reason: 1.4 (d)
1. (C) Summary. Thai National Security Council Secretary
General Winai told the Ambassador on March 21 that after two
postponements of the original August 2004 deadline for the
move of the urban Burmese to the border camps, there would be
no further extensions of the current deadline of March 31.
Only a small percentage of the urban Burmese have registered
so far for the camp transfer. The Ambassador emphasized U.S.
concern about the camp move and expressed hope that there
would be no general crackdown on urban Burmese who did not
register, and particularly no refoulement of urban Burmese
refugees. Winai said the RTG was not planning any crackdown
or searches for urban Burmese but Thai immigration law would
be applied to those who were detained by Thai authorities.
The Ambassador noted U.S. interest in further discussions
with the RTG on refugee resettlement from the Burma border
camps and the planned April visit of PRM DAS Ryan in which
this issue could be explored further. Winai welcomed the
news of Ryan\’s visit and said the RTG was open to
resettlement from the camps. Winai also described the
evolution in the RTG\’s assessment of the violence in southern
Thailand. The RTG had not initially understood the situation
and that real sensitivities and grievances existed which
needed addressing. The RTG believed the strategy of those
behind the violence was to separate the people from the
government and internationalize the issue. The latter and
the possibility that the southern situation would become a
religious conflict were what the RTG feared most. At the
conclusion of the meeting, Winai told the Ambassador that he
did not expect to remain long in his position. End Summary.
2. (C) On March 21, Ambassador called on General Winai
Phattiyakul, Thai National Security Council Secretary
General, and raised refugee issues and the situation in
Urban Burmese Refugee Issue
3. (C) General Winai began the discussion by expressing Thai
gratitude for the U.S. resettlement programs for the Hmong
and urban Burmese. Winai noted that both groups were in a
difficult situation and had few opportunities in Thailand.
The urban Burmese in particular faced an uncertain future.
It was unclear whether there would be positive political
developments in Burma that would allow them to return there.
Winai said that some in the group were driven by political
principles and were involved in political activities. Others
were engaged in criminal activities. Thailand had to exert
some control over them. The Ambassador replied that the
Hmong resettlement program had been delayed by a disease
outbreak that would delay the completion of the program for
several months. He asked General Winai to explain the
background of the urban Burmese situation and the current
plan to move them to the border camps.
4. (C) Winai recounted that political demonstrations in
mid-2003 by urban Burmese outside the Burmese Embassy in
Bangkok, which criticized Thai and Burmese government
policies had led Prime Minister Thaksin to direct that the
urban Burmese be moved to the border camps by August 2004 and
not engage in political activities. Winai added that the
Prime Minister had also accused UNHCR at the time of
conducting refugee status interviews for this group without
informing the Thai government. (Comment. UNHCR had in fact
regularly kept the Thai Foreign Ministry appraised of its
refugee interview activities. End comment.) The Thai
government had decided also that the urban Burmese could
choose resettlement to third countries. UNHCR had not
contested the Thai government position. Winai continued that
the United States had then stepped in and offered to resettle
the urban Burmese. As August 2004 approached, the United
States and UNHCR had asked for an extension of the deadline
for the border camp move. The RTG had agreed to this and
also to a subsequent request to postpone the deadline to the
end of March 2005. Over this period the number of urban
Burmese whom UNHCR said had refugee status had increased from
about 1,800 to about 4,400. Resettlement countries had taken
so far about 2,000 of the 4,400.
5. (C) Winai said that there could not be further extensions
of the March 31 deadline. He added that there was space for
1,800 persons in three of the refugee camps near the
Thai-Burma border. To ensure there was enough room in the
camps, the urban Burmese could be staged into the camps
according to their position in the resettlement pipeline.
That is, those who had been refused by resettlement countries
should be moved first and those who had appealed a negative
decision by a resettlement country could be moved next.
Those who already had a date for departure to a third country
should be the last to move to the camps. Winai noted that
only a small number of urban Burmese in Bangkok had
registered so far for the camp transfer. The number in Mae
Sot was about 400. UNHCR had told the urban Burmese that
they would lose their right to resettlement if they did not
report for the transfer. Resettlement countries would be
able to continue processing of the urban Burmese after they
went to the camps.
6. (C) The Ambassador emphasized that there was serious
concern among NGOs and in the U.S. Congress about the planned
move. He added that some of the refugees had worries about
camp conditions. Others might have medical or security
problems if they moved to the camps. The Ambassador said
that the U.S. hoped that there would not be a strong RTG
reaction against those urban Burmese who did not register for
the camp transfer. In particular the United States opposed
any refoulement of refugees.
7. (C) Winai responded that, &frankly,8 the RTG was not
planning a general crackdown or large-scale searches for the
urban Burmese after the March 31 deadline passed. However,
the urban Burmese would be subject to Thai immigration law
after March 31. He added that the Thai government had not
formally deported refugees to the Burmese authorities, but
acknowledged that some were taken to the Burma border and
released there, whereupon they typically returned to Thailand.
Burma Refugee Camp Resettlement
8. (C) The Ambassador said that the U.S. was interested in
resettlement of refugees from the Burma border camps. As a
start, the U.S. wanted to look at the Tham Hin refugee camp.
Resettlement from that site could begin towards the end of
this year. He noted that PRM DAS Kelly Ryan would be
visiting Thailand April 20-22 and would have more to say on
9. (C) Winai responded that he looked forward to Ryan\’s
visit. He said that the situation in Tham Hin was not good
and the refugees there had little opportunity to develop
themselves. Many had been in the camps for 20 years. The
best alternative would be if they had an opportunity to
return to Burma. Winai described how a recent Thai military
delegation to Rangoon had raised this issue and Burmese
leader Maung Aye had said that the Burmese government, in a
policy shift, was now willing to issue passports to Burmese
workers who returned to Burma from Thailand so they in turn
could come back to Thailand under the Thai migrant worker
registration program. Winai said this statement by Maung Aye
would have to be pursued further to determine if it
represented a real change. Maung Aye had also said Rangoon
was willing to accept back to Burma those who had left
because they were fleeing fighting. However, Rangoon was not
willing to permit those Burmese who rebelled against the
government to return. Winai said that it was not clear what
distinction there was between the second and third groups.
10. (C) Winai said that when he first took the position of
NSC Secretary General, there had been concern in the RTG that
any resettlement program from the border camps would be a
pull factor and draw more Burmese into Thailand. Now,
however, there was little fighting in eastern Burma and so
concerns in this area had lessened. The RTG, including the
Prime Minister, was agreeable to resettlement from the border
camps. Winai said it was important now also for the camp
refugees to have greater educational and vocational training
opportunities. This would give them skills that they could
use if they were able to return to Burma. If, on the other
hand, they stayed in Thailand and became Thai, they could
make a contribution to Thai society.
Situation in the South
11. (C) Winai said that the RTG\’s views about the situation
in southern Thailand had changed over the past two years.
Initially, the RTG had thought that the perpetrators of the
violence were bandits, criminals involved in illegal
activities, or influential local persons who had differences
with Thai officials. The RTG also believed that some in the
South, particularly the younger generation, still had notions
of separatism, but did not have the means to put such ideas
into action. Later, the RTG realized the situation was more
complex and that some Southerners felt that Thai society and
Thai officials did not treat them justly. These feelings
were genuine, different from the feelings of other Thai.
Southerners were very sensitive on this point. The RTG also
discovered that the Ministry of Education had little
knowledge about the teachers and curriculum in the Muslim
schools in the South. It learned that many Thai students
were going to schools in Indonesia. The Indonesian
government had asked for the Thai government\’s assistance in
tracking the movements of these students.
12. (C) Winai said those behind the southern violence wanted
to separate the people from the government, draw foreign
attention to the situation, and internationalize the issue.
The RTG feared most that the situation would become a
religious conflict and become internationalized. Winai noted
that it was not yet clear what role the newly formed National
Reconciliation Commission (NRC) headed by former Prime
Minister Anand Panyarachun would play. He thought it would
try to identify legitimate grievances and what could be done
to address them.
13. (C) The Ambassador said that as a friend of Thailand, he
was concerned about the situation in the South. He
understood the issue of the sensitivity of Muslim feelings
based on his experience in Indonesia. The Ambassador said
there seemed to be disagreement on whether the disbanding
several years earlier by Prime Minister Thaksin of the
long-standing commission of military, police, officials and
southern civilians that had addressed general problems in the
region was a mistake and contributed to the current
instability. Winai responded that he felt the old commission
had played a useful role. However, the Prime Minister at the
time had been told that law enforcement officials could
handle the situation and that the number of persons with guns
in the South totaled no more than 50. In addition, the three
southern provinces were a part of Thailand and should not
necessarily be treated or governed differently from the rest
of the country. Winai added that the problems in the South
had ebbed and flowed for about 100 years.
14. (C) Winai said that the new RTG approach would be to
accept that there were cultural differences with the South.
These differences should be looked at as an asset.
Southerners would also have full religious freedom. However,
there would be no special autonomy. The RTG was now giving
Southerners special preferences in the test for entering the
police force since they would otherwise not pass. Many of
the 1,900 new police hired for the South would be from the
region. The Ministry of Education would also take a much
more active role in improving the curriculum in the Islamic
schools. The schools currently did not teach regular
subjects and this made it difficult for graduates to obtain
jobs. Winai stated that senior southern religious leaders
had recently met with the RTG and said that they wanted a
return to normalcy. They asked the RTG to improve security
in the South and said that most southerners wanted peace.
15. (C) In an aside to the Ambassador at the conclusion of
the meeting, General Winai said that he did not expect to
remain long in his current position. He hoped to return to
the military and retire from there.
16. (C) Comment. Winai\’s comment that there are no plans for
a general crackdown on urban Burmese after the March 31
deadline is positive, but Embassy will watch this issue
carefully. UNHCR and the RTG are now working feverishly to
put in place the necessary logistical arrangements for the
camp transfer. While some arrangements have been made
already, whether they will be sufficient will likely depend
on how many of the urban Burmese sign up for the camp move
and the pace of the movements.