Gen Sonthi is in grave error

BangkokPost: 28 Sept.2007

Recent comments by Council for National Security chairman Sonthi Boonyaratkalin condoning the violent suppression of largely peaceful demonstrations across Burma are despicable, and the outgoing army chief should be held accountable for his seriously irresponsible remarks.

Although accurate information on exactly what is taking place in Burma at present is difficult to come by, due to ever-tightening restrictions on media and communications, there have been reports of widespread beatings, arrests and even murders by state authorities. And it is clear that the history of violent suppression of dissent against the ruling junta, let alone massive street protests, means many innocent lives are at risk.

Talking on television on Wednesday night, Gen Sonthi, who is soon expected to be a deputy prime minister in the cabinet he appointed following the coup last year, said that there had been no violence or political suppression in Burma . He also questioned whether there had been any assault against monks that have been leading the protests, but said if there had been, it may have been the result of security forces “trying to defend themselves”.

Instead of using Thailand ’s influence over the ruling Burmese military council, led by Senior Gen Than Shwe, to call for the immediate halt of the brutal suppression of peaceful protests that have been growing over recent weeks, Gen Sonthi is making us the first country to openly condone it _ an unjustifiable position by all means.

While other governments have begun to speak out to warn Burma that the eyes of the world are upon them, it is those that have the most sway over the ruling military council that remain regrettably meek _ China, India and Asean. It seems the lure of international trade and profit is again taking precedence over human rights and justice.

Gen Sonthi was at least honest in his comments that countries like China and Thailand are reluctant to speak out against the Burmese regime due to the eyes they have on Burma ’s vast natural resources. But that does not make it right.

The Burmese junta must be made to realise, in no uncertain terms, that it is unacceptable to run a nation through violence, in tim idation and fear, and that the brutal suppression of these protests, in any form, will not be tolerated.

The long-repressed people of Burma , with great bravery and spirit and great risk to themselves and their families’ safety, are at last speaking up against the unmentionable oppression they have suffered under for decades _ and it is tim e the world, and Thailand , heeded their concerns.

For too long now human rights abuses have been perpetrated by the ruling military junta in Burma without any real repercussions.

If the ruling junta there is permitted to again stamp out dissent through the most abhorrent of methods that defy all international human rights laws, we all will have done the people of Burma and ourselves a gross injustice.

It is unacceptable to allow the violent repression of political opposition in Burma to continue in this vein for much longer. The untold number of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the iconic leader of the Burmese pro-democracy movement, must be released immediately and full, multi-party talks held to find a way forward for a free and open Burma .

Political change in Burma would be in the best interests not only of the people of Burma , but also everyone else in the region, including Thailand , and now is the tim e to use all the avenues available to help the downtrodden Burmese people attain the freedoms and rights that they are entitled to.

Gen Sonthi’s comments belie the fragile nature of our own respect for basic human rights and freedoms. While no country, the US and the UK included, has a completely clear conscience to lecture on the rights set out under the UN Charter, defending such brutal suppression of innocent civilians, political opponents and monks is unacceptable.


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