Suu Kyi’s Thai trip ruffles feathers at home

The first trip abroad in more than two decades by Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi appears to have strained her crucial relationship with President Thein Sein, who is leading the country’s transformation from military dictatorship to embryonic democracy.

Soon after Suu Kyi returned home on Sunday from Thailand, an adviser to Myanmar’s President criticized her for lacking “transparency” in carrying out her trip and for her comments warning international investors against “reckless optimism” over Myanmar.

“Personally, I really admire her, but I have a doubt,” the adviser, Nay Zin Latt, said in an e-mail.

Public criticism of Suu Kyi, even in its mildest form, is rare, partly because she is such a popular figure in the country.

Nay Zin Latt’s comments were the first by one of Thein Sein’s advisers – who serve as spokesmen – since the President cancelled a trip to Thailand on Friday.

The Thai news media is portraying the cancellation as a reaction to Bangkok’s handling of Suu Kyi’s visit.

The fact that she was allowed back into the country on Sunday was a milestone on Myanmar’s road to national reconciliation.

During the periods when she was not under house arrest in the past two decades, she chose not to travel abroad for fear of being denied re-entry by Myanmar’s military rulers.

Yet the discontent over her six-day visit to Thailand underlines the fragility of her country’s transition.

The complicated and delicate relationship between the President and MsSuu Kyi, a newly elected lawmaker, is in some ways the bedrock of the reform process in Myanmar. Their meeting last August accelerated the changes sweeping the country and helped persuade Suu Kyi to rejoin the political system.

“Most of the improvements in Burma these days are because of the relationship between Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi,” said senior researcher Win Min of the Vahu Development Institute, an organization set up by Harvard-trained Myanmar exiles that studies issues related to Myanmar.

“If this relationship is strained, it could hurt national reconciliation.”

The abrupt cancellation of President Thein Sein’s visit to Thailand appears to have been a message to Bangkok – and other governments across the region – that Myanmar’s leader will not tolerate being overshadowed by Ms Suu Kyi’s star power.

The cancellation came nearly a week after he pulled out of the two-day World Economic Forum in Bangkok, which ended on Friday, where he was slated to speak, and where Suu Kyi urged potential investors in Myanmar to proceed with caution in a speech.

Underlying the Thai government’s sensitivities towards Myanmar is a huge project for a seaport and joint economic zone in Myanmar that would connect to Thailand and provide access to the Indian Ocean.

Thai Rath, the largest newspaper in Thailand, reported on Sunday that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had said in an interview that she was concerned Suu Kyi’s visit had damaged Thailand’s relationship with Myanmar.

Thein Sein was “irritated” by Suu Kyi’s trip, the newspaper said, adding that Yingluck had ordered the Thai Foreign Ministry to “clarify” details of the visit to the public.

Despite the turbulence caused by her trip, it is possible that relations between Suu Kyi and the President will remain on an even keel.

Many analysts believe she and Thein Sein have a rapport, and Suu Kyi has said on numerous occasions that she considers the President to be sincere in his desire for change.

THAILAND: Prominent activists and farmer leaders facing imprisonment for their role in leading Thailand towards important land policy reforms english/thai

31 May 2012

THAILAND: Prominent activists and farmer leaders facing imprisonment for their role in leading Thailand towards important land policy reforms

Your Excellency,

We are extremely troubled by the intensification of prosecutions by the Thai State of Thai nationals who have conducted long-term, open and public-minded campaigns to secure land rights for the poor and to bring about national land policy reform.

Around the world, Thailand’s reputation and image are being eroded under the international spotlight that is drawn on these injustices.  The decisions in the appeal cases of three prominent members of the Community Land Reform Movement in Lamphun province on 6th June 2012 will be an important signal of the Thai State’s approach towards civilians who have drawn national attention to critical reforms needed to resolve long standing land conflicts in Thailand. Their actions do not warrant public prosecution or other forms of State persecution.

We note that Thailand has made international commitments in support of agrarian reform, including at the high-level International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development in Brazil in 2006. The Final Declaration, adopted by 92 FAO member states including Thailand, reaffirmed the fundamental importance of agrarian reform for the eradication of hunger and poverty, and of promoting wider, secure and sustainable access to land, water and other natural resources.

Agrarian reform is recognized around the world as a critical imperative to ensure the right to food, and a more just and equitable basis for sustainable development. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has repeatedly emphasised that secure access to land for smallholder farmers, and agrarian reform in particular, are key elements in ensuring the right to food.  Hundreds of international experts involved in the International Assessment for Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD) have highlighted the importance of a thriving small-scale production sector for society in reducing economic vulnerability, improving access to food, livelihoods and health, increasing equity, and have recognised smallholders’ contributions towards sustainable environmental management that is not only important for Thailand, but for the planet.

We have learned that land conflicts in Thailand stem partly from corruption and untransparent decisions in the past in the allocation and demarcation of state-owned as well as privately-held land.  These long-term, unresolved conflicts must be resolved in a just and participatory manner without delay if Thailand is to fulfill its international commitments to human rights, sustainable development, and good governance.

The Thai Land Reform Network has put forward important proposals for reform including the redistribution of unused and idle lands, securing land titles for community groups, bringing in a fair and progressive land tax mechanism, and setting up a national land fund to facilitate the redistribution of land to the poor.  We note that some of these proposals have been given recognition within government, but the pace of implementation of these reforms has been too slow. Continue reading “THAILAND: Prominent activists and farmer leaders facing imprisonment for their role in leading Thailand towards important land policy reforms english/thai”