23 May 2024

A hasty initiative by paroled former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to mediate a peace process in strife-torn Myanmar is premature, as no stakeholder is willing to talk about a truce, according to an expert from Thammasat University.

Thaksin, who returned to Thailand last year and was freed after serving six months of his sentence, reportedly met with representatives of the dissident National Unity Government (NUG), and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) from war-torn Myanmar in April to explore possibilities of mediating peace talks between the EAOs and the State Administration Council (SAC) junta.

The former Thai premier invited representatives of the Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Kachin National Organization (KIO), and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) to offer his mediation for peace.

“The offer is premature, as the SAC would never sit as an equal with the dissident EAOs, who are described as terrorists by the junta,” Dulyapak Preecharush, Thammasat University’s deputy director of the Institute of East Asian Studies, told Thai PBS World in an interview.

The EAOs reportedly refused to sign any binding documents that would give Thaksin a mandate to mediate a truce, hence his efforts were doomed to fail, Dulyapak said, but he added that Thaksin was unlikely to give up.

The SAC junta has not reacted to Thaksin’s initiative.

Dulyapak, a scholar who authored the book, “The Politics of Federalization in Myanmar”, said the military junta might not be interested in any peace initiative as it has announced a plan to move forward with holding a general election under Min Aung Hlaing’s road map.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing would discuss the election plan with former Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen when the latter visits Myanmar this week.

Government in the dark?

Thaksin’s peace initiative came in the midst of a major offensive operation by the EAOs in the areas along the Thai border.

The Thai authorities also heightened their vigilance when the KNU’s armed wing, Karen National Liberation Army, and the NUG’s People’s Defense Force attacked the Myanmar military stronghold near Myawaddy, a township across Mae Sot district in Thailand’s Tak province, in early April.

Thaksin’s surprise move pushed the Pheu Thai Party-led government into an awkward position.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who had met the former premier during the Songkran festival, around the time Thaksin had met the Myanmar dissident groups, told reporters that he was not aware of the meeting in question.

Srettha said the Thai government wanted to see peace return to Myanmar and many government agencies, including the foreign ministry and security agencies, were quietly working with all relevant parties.

Newly appointed Foreign Minister Maris Sangiampongsa said he knew about the meeting, but added that the Thai government had nothing to do with Thaksin’s initiative.

The ex-PM might work on the peace plan in his personal capacity as he knew many people and was widely known among the concerned parties, he said.

The House of Representatives chairman of the Security and Border Affairs Committee, Rangsiman Rome, told local media that his committee would summon government officials for testimony on Thaksin’s move.

He said Thaksin’s role had caused confusion in the international community about the government’s policy towards peace in Myanmar.

No honest broker

Thaksin was widely known to give a lot of attention to neighboring countries, notably Myanmar, during his years in power from 2001-2006.

In 2003, his government initiated peace talks known as the “Bangkok Process” to facilitate a reconciliation between the then Myanmar military government under Khin Nyunt and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

The initiative was not able to achieve the goal of peace in Myanmar but gave Thaksin’s government a lot of mileage in the international community.

Thaksin’s engagement with Myanmar was not all good. After the 2006 coup, the Thai military junta accused Thaksin of conflict of interest for extending a 4-billion-baht loan in 2004 to Myanmar via the Thai Export-Import Bank to buy telecommunication items and services from the then Shinawatra-owned Thaicom satellite.

Thaksin was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in the case.

Thaksin also has had a deep and long connection with the SAC’s top leader, Min Aung Hlaing. Thaksin made his personal ties known in public during the Songkran festival in 2013 when he paid a private visit to Min Aung Hlaing at a luxury residence in Pyin Oo Lwin.

His Myanmar connection helped smooth deals for the Dawei Deep Sea Port mega-project during his sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration. The project subsequently failed to take off.

No major policy shift

Thaksin’s moves had no major impact on Thailand’s foreign policy toward Myanmar, as it was dictated by three major bureaucrat-dominated pillars: the Foreign Ministry, the National Security Council, and the Army.

The elected government has no liberty to implement foreign policy toward neighboring countries notably where the security issue is a major concern, like Myanmar.

Srettha’s government might adjust the policy toward Myanmar a little bit, but the overall policy was in line with what the military-backed government under General Prayut Chan-o-cha had set over the past years, according to Dulyapak.

Connection between the Thai armed forces and the Myanmar military—also known as Tatmadaw—remains fundamental for bilateral relations between the two countries.

Under the supervision of the three pillars, Thailand has continued to support Min Aung Hlaing and his regime for the sake of the national interest, the scholar said.

Effective humanitarian corridor

Dulyapak suggested that Srettha’s government continue its humanitarian initiatives but should also put more efforts into the improvement of its efficiency and effectiveness.

The government initiated a humanitarian corridor, which received endorsement from ASEAN, aimed initially at assisting 20,000 individuals in need in the crisis-affected neighboring region.

The first batch of 4,000 relief bags was delivered via the Mae Sot-Myawaddy route on March 25.

However, this initiative faced considerable criticism, primarily because it was facilitated through the Myanmar Red Cross, which dissidents perceived as a security agency capable of screening or obstructing assistance from reaching individuals in areas controlled by armed ethnic groups.

Dulyapak, a keen follower of affairs relating to Myanmar, said the government should seek cooperation from local and international non-governmental organizations working for humanitarian assistance on the ground as well as many people’s organizations in Myanmar for effective delivery of such humanitarian assistance to the displaced people.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk