Thai PM vows to take action against abusers
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva pledged yesterday to hold accountable any security forces who abused Muslim migrants from Myanmar after hundreds of boat people were found adrift.
He made the promise on a visit to Japan, where he tried to assure Thailand's biggest investor that the kingdom was "back on track" after months of intense political turmoil.
"If facts emerge that there have been abuses by our officials, they will have to be held accountable," Abhisit told a news conference here.
"Whether it's refugees, whether it's illegal migrant workers, my government intends to respect humanitarian principles and human rights," he added.
The fledgling government has been under fire after hundreds of migrants from Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority were rescued in Indian and Indonesian waters in recent weeks, some covered with welts.
They have said they were detained and beaten before being set adrift with few supplies by Thai security forces. Rights groups fear scores may have perished. A photograph apparently showing the Thai army towing refugees out to sea has been published in the media.
But the British-born premier insisted there was no proof of wrongdoing.
The migrants are "clearly young men seeking economic opportunities trying to enter Thailand illegally," he said.
"The reports of abuse are solely based on accounts given by these people and nothing more," he added, while urging neighbouring countries to cooperate in handling the issue.
Indonesia Friday said it would consider granting refugee status to them, overturning the government's previous line that they were economic migrants.
The Oxford-educated Abhisit, who took office in December, was on a three-day visit to Tokyo accompanied by six ministers in a bid to reassure investors. He later met with Prime Minister Taro Aso.
"I stand before you to reassure you that at this time Thailand is back on track," he earlier told a group of business leaders.
"The difference between now and two months ago was that you had a barely functioning government then but now we have a government that is moving forward on all fronts," he said.
Protesters blockaded Bangkok's airports for more than a week late last year, stranding tourists -- including many Japanese -- in a bid to force out a government linked to influential former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
The country's central bank estimates the blockade cost the kingdom more than eight billion dollars.
However, Abhisit's government has also faced street protests -- this time from supporters of Thaksin, a populist tycoon with a powerbase in the Thai countryside.
While Abhisit admitted that political divisions and street protests are unlikely to disappear, he said: "The government itself will not escalate any kind of conflict with the opponents."
Japan is Thailand's largest trading partner and the two countries have close diplomatic ties, including warm relations between their royal families.
Thailand and Japan signed a free-trade deal in 2007 aimed at breaking down trade barriers and boosting trade and investment.
Under that agreement, about 97 percent of Japanese exports to Thailand and 92 percent of Thai exports to Japan will be tariff-free within 10 years.
But amid the global economic crisis, Japanese investment in Thailand fell more than 50 percent last year from 68.30 billion baht (1.95 billion dollars) in 2007, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation said in a report.