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Monday, 9 May 1994
Page: 400


Senator CHAMARETTE —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I draw the minister's attention to recent developments in Burma and ask: has the government of Thailand recently increased pressure on the Mon community leadership to hold negotiations with the Burmese State Law and Order Restoration Council? Secondly, has this pressure on the Mon community come about as a result of a desire by the Thai government to establish a joint venture with the SLORC to construct a gas pipeline across Mon territory? Thirdly, is the minister aware of a report that Nai Shwe Kyin, the President of the Mon community and Chairman of the National Democratic Front of Burma, has had to go into hiding in Thailand because he fears being handed over to the SLORC if the Mon community refuses to negotiate? Fourthly, has the minister's attention been drawn to reports that members of the Mon community are becoming increasingly concerned and fear for their lives if they should fall into the hands of the State Law and Order Restoration Council?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I am aware of reports, first of all, that there has been pressure by the Thai government on ethnic minority groups from Burma, or Myanmar, including the Mon community, to negotiate with the State Law and Order Restoration Council. A number of those ethnic groups, including most recently the Kachin, have entered into cease-fire agreements with the SLORC, but of the various ethnic groups which make up the democratic alliance of Burma, it is the case that only the Karen, Mon and Karenni have not entered into cease-fire arrangements. These groups have held some preliminary, but so far fruitless, talks with the SLORC.

  As to the second question, it would appear that factors underlying recent developments in this area of Thai policy do include a desire to promote stability on the Thai-Burma border and concern at the impact of the exiles' activities on Thailand's relations with that country. I am not aware of a link with any proposal to construct a gas pipeline across Mon territory.

  As to the third question, I am also aware of reports that Nai Shwe Kyin, President of the new Mon state party and Chairman of the National Democratic Front, is in hiding in Thailand. The Australian Embassy in Bangkok has looked into these reports and has established that Nai Shwe Kyin is safe and well. He is currently back in Burma, or Myanmar, preparing for an executive committee meeting of his party.

  As to the final question, yes, we are aware that Burmese exiles and refugees in Thailand, including members of the Mon community, have expressed concern about the implications of recent developments in Thai policy. Australia's position has been to value Thailand's flexible policy toward Burmese dissidents and exiles, particularly its practice of providing temporary sanctuary to those people in Thailand, and we have expressed our hope to the Thai government that it will continue with this flexible and humanitarian approach.

  We do maintain regular dialogue with the government of Thailand and with the UNHCR, the High Commissioner for Refugees, regarding the situation of Burmese refugees in exile in Thailand, and I should say that we also endeavour to maintain a dialogue with the government in Burma itself on a whole range of human rights concerns, including, of course, the situation of ethnic minorities.


Senator CHAMARETTE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Has the minister taken any action in relation to the request from the Mon community to find out the fate of one Nai Shwe Lwin who was arrested on 23 February 1994 after a peaceful demonstration in front of the United Nations building in Bangkok and who, after being accused and given a fine of some money or 40 days imprisonment, has not been seen for two months? Has the minister any information with regard to that?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I do not have any information in front of me or that I can recall on that particular case. I will take that question on notice.