Burmese migrants ‘cannot join Thai protests’

Ahead of planned opposition protests in Thailand, the country’s deputy prime minister has warned migrants that they have no right to join with anti-government activists.

The protests, a reaction to the guilty corruption verdict laid on former Thai prime minister Thaksin Sinawatra, are set for 12 to 14 March while current PM Abhisit Vejajjiva is out of the country.

“Migrant workers have no right to participate, even as onlookers,” Suthep Thaugsuban told AFP after it was reported that Bangkok would tighten restrictions on migrants’ movements.

Thaksin was seen as an ally of migrants living in Thailand, hence the fears voiced by the incumbent party that they would join his loyal ‘Red Shirts’. The vast majority of Thailand’s migrant community are Burmese.

Thai security forces will man roads in all provinces to check for ID cards and to search vehicles headed to Bangkok which they fear will be carrying weapons.

Kraisak Choonhavan, chairperson of the ASEAN Inter Parliamentary Caucus on Myanmar (AIPMC), and a member of the current ruling party in Thailand, said that “if it concerns [Burmese migrants’] own interests and Burma, then sure, I see no reason why they cannot protest”.

He added however that “I can’t see any reason why they should protect Mr Thaksin”.

The court ruling was made on 26 February and found Thaksin guilty of abusing his power by providing four billion baht ($US122 million) to the Burmese government to upgrade its telecommunications network.

Initially, it had opened a credit line of three billion baht ($US92 million) for Burma, but Thaksin asked the bank to increase the credit line by one billion baht. After that, the interest rate on the loan was cut from 5.5 percent to three percent.

Of this amount, Burma spent 600 million baht ($US18 million) purchasing broadband internet from Shin Corp and Shin Satellite, then under the Shinawatra family’s ownership. The ruling seized an estimated two thirds of the family’s assets.

As the protests near, Choonhavan alleges that “some [migrant workers] have been known to have been hired in several provinces in the north [Thailand]…hired as nominal protestors”.

The protests are expected to attract around 600,000 people from across Thailand. It has also been reported that as many as 20,000 Buddhist monks may take part in the protests, despite Suthep warning them not to attend.

He also ruled out talking to Thaksin to curtail the protests. “I think it’s not appropriate [to hold talks] as they are putting the country and its future at risk for one person,” he told AFP.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch in a report last month had already criticised the Thai government for “imposing harsh restrictions on movement” and curtailing the rights of migrants to freedom of association.