Keep quiet on Myanmar
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Keep quiet on Myanmar

Reports that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra held talks with Myanmar's ethnic rebel groups in Chiang Mai last month are causing an innumerable number of jaws to drop.

Lest we forget, the 74-year-old veteran politician is still officially serving a sentence, albeit on parole. He will only be completely free in August.

Since leaving his incarceration facility at General Police Hospital in February, Thaksin has travelled with his entourage to places like Chiang Mai and Phuket. There, local officials greeted him while the police provided security.

However, the emboldened Thaksin has overstepped the mark by holding talks with Myanmar rebel groups. Confirmed reports from local and international media indicate that his lobbying team approached major ethnic rebel groups and asked them to sign a document to appoint the team as a representative in peace negotiations, which they did not grant.

Thaksin's peace talks bid simply causes confusion. Academics and lawmakers working on Myanmar issues now worry about what impact the talks will have on how Thailand's foreign policy is perceived.

What did Thaksin say to the ethnic groups? What capacity did he have? What is his motive? Is the move and details of discussion in line with the foreign policy of Thailand on Myanmar and Asean's Five-Point Consensus? Did the Thai government know about his move? Above all, did Alounkeo Kittikhoun, the Lao Asean Special Envoy assigned to handle the Myanmar issue, know about the former PM's lobbying?

Make no mistake, Thaksin's attempt is driven by altruism. Successful peace talks need to be headed by influential and charismatic figures. Yet, such lobbying must be done carefully, with acknowledgement from responsible governments.

Thaksin's attempt to broker peace, which occurred early last month, was leaked to the press this month.

The peace negotiations on the Myanmar issue are neither trade negotiations nor casual political dealing. Our neighbouring country has a unique history and background; fragmented with 135 indigenous tribes clustered into eight ethnic groups.

These ethnic groups live along borders, expanding their territory and influence while fighting Myanmar's junta government and other groups to reclaim autonomy and rich natural resources.

Efforts to unite them by past governments -- either the iron-fisted junta or the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi -- rarely made inroads.

The latest civil war is becoming complex, with other countries giving support to the armed rebel groups and newly born anti-junta groups.

The Thai government, as well as Asean, has treated the Myanmar issue carefully and played a neutral role in keeping the dialogue open and providing humanitarian aid. Any faux pas can make negotiations and distributing humanitarian assistance more difficult.

Foreign Affairs Minister Maris Sangiampongsa previously said that Thaksin's talks in Myanmar were conducted on a personal level and were not part of the government's policy towards its neighbour. However, other ministries welcomed Thaksin's help.

Unclear stances damage Thailand's diplomacy, so what is needed is clarity and transparency.

Legally, Thaksin has nothing to do with the government. But in reality, it is quasi-public knowledge that he is wielding influence over the ruling party. So his move, his words -- more or less, are translated as being those of the Thai government.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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