Thursday, November 1, 2007

Thailand Rounding up Burmese -- including Children

Yesterday Human Rights Watch issued a report that shows what happens to destitute children in Burma: they end up in the Tatmadaw (the name of Burma's army). Today The Irrawaddy reports that Thailand is rounding up Burmese migrants -- including children. Guess where Thailand sends them? Back to Burma.

It gets worse. The Thai government official supervising the round-ups of Burmese is none other than General Sonthi. Sonthi is a close friend and staunch ally of Burma's junta. Monks and protestors already lay dead on the streets of Rangoon in September, but this did not deter General Sonthi issuing a statement in defense of the Myanmar regime.

Sonthi was also responsible for the execution of the 2006 coup d'etat in Thailand (Last year, on a Bangkok street around midnight I live-blogged a Thai spokesman declaring a coup d'etat in the name of General Sonthi -- video here, here). Just last month, General Sonthi resigned from the military and was appointed deputy prime minister of Thailand

Here's the most recent report from the Irrawaddy (Mizzima also has a story on this). The Irrawaddy explains that Sonthi was behind this outrage against Burmese living in Thailand:

Thai police arrested about 1,200 migrant workers, most of them Burmese, in a raid on a market area in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province early on Wednesday, the Thai News Agency (TNA) reported. . . .

A source in Mae Sot said more than 200 illegal migrants had been caught there and sent back to Burma. Police checkpoints had been set up in Mae Sot and on main roads leading to the town.

Moe Swe, of the Mae Sot-based Yaung Chi Oo Burmese migrants’ organization, said the arrests were a cause of “big concern.”

A Burmese researcher at the Labor Rights Promotion Network said his organization was particularly concerned about the plight of children who faced being deported to Burma. “They might not know where to go and how to survive,” he said.

The current crackdown follows a recent claim by Thailand’s former army chief, Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, now a deputy minister of national security, that the country’s 2-3 million illegal migrant workers represented a social problem and a threat that needed to be addressed, particularly in the province’s Mahachai district. He said he would be going to the area to inspect the situation at firsthand and seek a solution.

Apart from his government responsibilities, Gen Sonthi is chairman of Thailand’s National Foreign Workers Administrative Committee.

There is a pattern here.

Last week we learned that Thai agents are working to shut down pro-democracy news organizations operated by Burmese dissidents in exile. (The Irrawaddy, the source of this very report, is one of those groups that may be targeted by the Thai authorities). Since the brutal crackdown in September, Thailand appears to have placed a higher priority on supporting the Burmese junta in its crackdown than supporting the international community in its efforts to pressure the junta.

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