Indonesia and Thailand ally to tackle Burma issues

July 13, 2009 (DVB), Thailand and Indonesia will look to join together in tackling the influx of Rohingya refugees from Burma into their respective countries, whilst also pushing for the release of Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi.

Thailand's deputy foreign minister Panich Vikitsreth spoke to the Jakarta Post recently during a three day trip to Indonesia to discuss regional issues, as well as Thailand's ongoing problems with Muslim separatists in the south of the country.

Indonesia, like Thailand, has also received boatloads of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Burma's eastern Arakan state, which borders Bangladesh.

Thailand was widely condemned for its treatment of the Rohingya in January when around 500 refugees who had arrived in boats on Thailand's eastern shores were towed back out to sea by Thai officials and set loose without food or water.

To placate critics, Vikitsreth said that the Rohingya "are human beings, and must be treated as human beings," adding that "We do not have any policy or intention to hurt them".

Thailand holds the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose member countries, which include Indonesia, will meet in Phuket this week for the annual ASEAN regional forum.

Despite ASEAN's policy of non-interference in domestic issues of member countries, Thailand has criticized the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi and said that Burma's ongoing problems are "tarnishing" the bloc's image.

Many believe that the trial of Suu Kyi, which resumed last Friday after a six-week delay, it being used by the junta as a pretext to keep her in detention beyond the 2010 elections.

"We would like to see the election next year go through the right manner. We would like to see the release of Aung San Suu Kyi," Vikitsreth told the Jakarta Post, adding that "We have sent a strong message to the Myanmar [Burma] government" on the issue.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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