Thailand Sticks to Non-Interference Policy in Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 1 September 2017

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha assured the visiting Myanmar Army commander in chief that his government would not interfere in its neighbor’s domestic affairs, when discussing ongoing violence in Rakhine State on Wednesday.

The Nation newspaper reported that Prayut said Myanmar needed more time to fix the complex problems in the western state, adding: “We don’t intervene in their domestic affairs. [I understand that] Myanmar authorities do support and develop Rakhine State.”

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing was in Thailand for the fifth meeting of the Thailand-Myanmar High Level Committee, which was held in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen. Under former President Thein Sein’s government, the countries’ armed forces developed stronger relations and increased cooperation.

According to The Nation newspaper, Myanmar’s senior general told the Thai prime minister that a solution for Rakhine State’s problems needed to be rooted in trust.

On Aug. 25, Muslim militants staged attacks on more than 30 police outposts in the region, which was followed by military clearance operations. The UN estimates that 38,000 Muslim Rohingya have since fled to Bangladesh, and the army has reported that more than 11,000 people—mostly ethnic Arakanese Buddhists—have sought refuge in the state capital of Sittwe.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing also held a separate meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who was noted as using the term “Bengali” to refer to the Rohingya, a practice used by the Myanmar government to infer that the group are originally from Bangladesh. Prawit said the ongoing security operations had placed the region under control, noting that the population “might not be able to take boat trips” to Thailand anymore.

At the meeting in Khon Kaen, both sides reportedly discussed bilateral affairs and exchanged security updates, as well as information on migration and human trafficking issues.

Meanwhile, Voice of America reported that Muslims living in Mae Sot, a Thai border town opposite Myanmar’s Myawaddy, are under surveillance. Thousands of Myanmar migrants live in the area, which was once home to ethnic rebels active in the region.

Security and defense analyst Anthony Davis wrote in Asia Times earlier this month that Myanmar army and intelligence officials had asked Thailand to assist in checking the movement of money and militants along its western border.
The two sides also agreed to ramp up intelligence exchanges on the issue of “Islamist terrorism.”

Davis wrote, “Specific concerns have focused on the Thai border town of Mae Sot, which has predictably emerged as the main conduit for couriers and militants traveling overland north from Malaysia and into Myanmar.”

The author reported that from 2013-14, Rohingya militants briefly attempted to set up training courses on the Thai border, but that it remained unclear whether these involved arms training.