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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 109

(Question No. 1079)


Senator Chamarette asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 22 February 1994:

  (1) ls it a fact that: (a) Thai authorities recently confiscated medical supplies destined for use among ethnic minorities within Burma; (b) Thai authorities refused to grant entry visas to members of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) and other pro-democracy organisations returning to Thailand after the recent United Nations General Assembly sessions; and (c) there have been raids carried out by Thai authorities on the offices of the NCGUB and other pro-democracy organisations in Bangkok.

  (2) What is the attitude of the Australian Government towards this apparent new level of constructive engagement on the part of the Thai Government.


Senator Gareth Evans —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1)(a) A truckload of medical supplies destined for use by ethnic minority people inside Burma was seized by local Thai authorities on 16 January this year. The Thai Foreign Ministry has told the Australian Embassy in Bangkok that, while it is the practice of the Thai Government to permit the transport of medical and other humanitarian supplies to people across the border, the truck driver in this particular instance was unable to show any permit to carry goods to the border, and that in these circumstances the local authorities had no option but to confiscate the goods in accordance with the provisions of Thai law.

  (b) While we are not in a position to comment on this specific case, we understand that the Thai authorities are prepared to issue visas for entry into Thailand by members of the NCGUB and other pro-democracy organisations, provided these people can present valid travel documents.

  (c) We understand that local Thai police did visit the office of the NCGUB in Bangkok in December 1993. No arrests were made or papers confiscated. There have been no subsequent incidents involving the NCGUB office in Bangkok, and nor have reports been received of any incidents involving action taken against the offices of other pro-democracy groups in Thailand. A number of Burmese students were detained by Thai police at the Mon Alliance Association in Bangkok on 25 February 1994. These people are being held at the Immigration Centre.

  (2) Australia has valued Thailand's flexible policy towards Burmese dissidents and exiles, particularly its practice of providing temporary sanctuary to Burmese political exiles and ethnic groups. We have expressed our hope to the Thai Government that it will maintain this flexible and humanitarian approach.