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Thailand: 30 Burmese Nationals Arrested - 2002-08-21

Authorities in Thailand have arrested more than 30 Burmese nationals, including 15 democracy advocates, and officials say they will be sent back to Burma. Thai police say the Burmese nationals are illegal immigrants, but human rights groups say the arrests are part of a crackdown against critics of Burma's military government.

Thai police Wednesday say the arrests in Sankhlaburi District, 100 kilometers west of Bangkok, were for illegal entry into Thailand and had nothing to do with politics.

The Bangkok civic group, Forum Asia, says the detainees include representatives of a half-dozen Burmese dissident groups and a score of Burmese who were taking English classes at a church.

Forum Asia analyst Sunai Phasuk says the arrests are part of the Thai government's increasing pressure on Burmese dissidents. He says Thai authorities also are pushing civic groups and journalists in the area to reduce their activities.

The Burmese government closed the border three months ago following incidents involving the Thai and Burmese military and two ethnic Burmese militias. Mr. Sunai says the Thai government is keen to re-open the border, but Burma's junta, called the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, refuses to do so. "SPDC will not consider the re-opening of border checkpoints until Thailand could prove its commitment about cracking down on humanitarian NGO's, [and] about banning foreign press from getting information about human rights abuse in Burma," he says.

The chairman of the Thai Senate's Committee on Foreign Affairs, Kraisak Choonhavan, says the arrests are quite disturbing. "I didn't think the government would take such drastic matter [action], even though the government has changed its policy toward Rangoon from a distant relation to a much closer relation."

The Thai government advocates engagement with Rangoon. Bangkok says that policy will do more to encourage democratic change in Burma than the economic sanctions advocated by most of the international community.

Senator Kraisak says his committee has summoned officials on Thailand's National Security Council for questioning about the reported abuses against Burmese minority groups and to explain the recent crackdown.