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Defence Minister Sukampon Suwannathat at Tablamu Navy Base

Accusations of Abuses Require Investigation

Thursday, March 7, 2013
News Analysis

PHUKET: Thailand's Defence Minister, Sukampon Suwannathat, paid a historic and timely visit to the Royal Thai Navy base at Tablamu, north of Phuket, today.

It was the first time a defence minister has visited the base, he said, and it came as the role of the Navy in the Phuket and Andaman region is changing.

He said the huge Dawei deep sea port development in Burma - also known as Myanmar - would irrevocably alter many things along the Andaman Sea coast because of the project's size and scale.

He also forecast more Rohingya sailing south, past Thailand, at a time when numbers already exceed previous records.

This was an extremely pertinent comment by the minister because a day or so earlier, for the first time, Thais accused the Thai military of abusing Rohingya boatpeople.

In the past, accusations have been made by Rohingya boatpeople. But this week, for the first time, Thais also made accusations of unacceptable behavior, of needless slaughter.

Severe penalties are necessary if these abuses can be proven.

To put these claims in context, Rohingya boats have arrived in the past couple of weeks in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and just this week in the Indian protectorate of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

In two of those cases, the boatpeople are reported to have told officials that they were pushed back from Thailand by the Thai military.

We thought the military's policy of ''push backs'' of stateless would-be refugees had been abandoned soon after it was exposed in 2009.

We thought it had been replaced by the ''help on'' policy, where the Thai Navy supplies boatpeople with food, water and fuel and nudges boats on towards possible sanctuary in Malaysia.

It was disturbing this week to hear Thai villagers on the Andaman coast accusing the Thai military of human rights abuses, all over again.

The claims now being made about the actions of the Thai military in dealing with Rohingya boatpeople involve the most appalling breaches of military discipline.

They require an independent inquiry.

Added to allegations made in Indonesia, in Sri Lanka - and now in Thailand by Thais - the claims must be investigated by an independent international body.

The reputation of the Thai military and the Thai Navy especially will be diminished if these allegations are not examined thoroughly immediately.

Having made the historic move of visiting Tablamu navy base, the minister should now make history again by calling for an independent international investigation.

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