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05BANGKOK2088 THE AMBASSADOR\’S MEETING WITH THAI NSC SECRETARY GENERAL WINAI

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“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

 

SIPDIS

 

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

GENERAL WINAI

 

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

southern Thailand.

 

————————————

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

this issue.

 

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.

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

July 6, 2011 at 8:00 am

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