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Cablegate: Scenesetter for Drl a/S Lowenkron's Visit To

VZCZCXRO6571
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #2930/01 1450949
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 250949Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7205
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 4235
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 7146
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 7254
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 1749
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JCS WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 002930

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

FROM THE AMBASSADOR FOR A/S LOWENKRON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM PREF KDEM TH
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR DRL A/S LOWENKRON'S VISIT TO
THAILAND

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Your visit will help us to reinforce with top-level
RTG officials the need to promote respect for human rights
and the rule of law, and our continued interest in a return
to democratic governance through elections by the year's end.
Political parties, NGOs, and others in the political class
are currently debating an initial draft of the constitution,
to be finalized by July and then put to voters in a September
referendum. An upcoming Constitutional Tribunal ruling may
dissolve Thailand's two largest political parties, and
leading figures in those parties could be banned from holding
political office for five years. Applying such a ban to
deposed Prime Minister Thaksin would prevent his short to
medium term return to political life; the authorities have so
far been unable to present a strong case indicting him for
the abuses of power which the coup leaders cited as
justification for their putsch. Public dissatisfaction with
the current government is mounting, and there are indications
of some friction between the military leaders and Prime
Minister Surayud. Despite the current government's efforts
at reconciliation in southern Thailand, vicious insurgent
attacks continue, and there are also unconfirmed reports of
abuses by the security forces, including extrajudicial
killings and the intimidation of human rights workers. The
RTG recently told the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) that it wanted to place conditions on their
screening of asylum seekers. End Summary.

CONSTITUTION PAVING THE WAY FOR ELECTIONS
-----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Despite mishaps along the way, the leaders of the
post-coup institutions have so far managed to stick to the
schedule they outlined right after the September 2006 coup;
in April, the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) publicly
released the first draft of a new Constitution. This draft
has proven controversial, although not unexpectedly so, as it:

- provides for a Senate that would be appointed, rather than
elected -- marking a reversion to pre-1997 ways;

- creates a "crisis council" with unspecified powers and
unclear guidelines;

- effectively grants amnesty to those who launched the 2006
coup d'etat;

- provides officials of the judiciary with functions that
appear more political than judicial, such as selecting
members of independent government agencies; and

- does not enshrine Buddhism as the state religion,
disappointing many in Buddhist organizations and some
ultra-nationalists.

3. (SBU) Political parties, NGOs, media commentators, and
other civil society members have publicly criticized the
draft constitution. Consequently, we believe it likely that
the draft will be revised in significant ways, in response to
these concerns. The Constitution Drafting Assembly (of which
the CDC is a subset) has until early July to produce a final
draft. This draft will then be submitted to the public in a
referendum, likely to take place in early September. If the
electorate rejects the draft, the interim constitution
provides that the Council for National Security (CNS) and the
cabinet must work together to select a previous constitution,
modify it, and promulgate it. The deadlines established for
this process are intended to fulfill the commitment to
holding elections in mid or late December. It is worth
noting that Prime Minister Surayud and other senior Thai
officials assured visiting A/S Christopher Hill on May 22
that elections will be held by year's end.

TRIBUNAL MAY DISSOLVE POLITICAL PARTIES
---------------------------------------


BANGKOK 00002930 002 OF 004


4. (SBU) The participants in those elections remain
uncertain, however. The Constitutional Tribunal -- a new
institution created post-coup -- is currently determining
whether the Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) and the Democrat Party
(DP) committed "undemocratic acts" in connection with April
2006 elections. The Tribunal's determination is expected on
May 30. A post-coup decree retroactively established that,
if a party is ordered dissolved, the members of the party's
executive board become ineligible to hold political office
for five years. In the case of TRT, the party of deposed
Prime Minister Thaksin, the executive board at the time of
the alleged infractions consisted of 119 people, including
many traditional power brokers from the North and Northeast.
Although the charges of "undemocratic acts" are credible
(and, in fact, were first lodged prior to the coup),
disenfranchising such a large group of politicians could
prove destabilizing.

THAKSIN REMAINS OF CONCERN
--------------------------

5. (SBU) Nevertheless, the Constitutional Tribunal ruling may
be one important way to begin uprooting Thaksin's influence,
and to bar him from returning to political life in the near
future. The CNS established the Asset Examination Committee
(AEC) soon after the coup, in order to investigate
allegations of corruption by Thaksin and his cronies, but the
AEC has worked slowly. It has recommended charging Thaksin
for supporting his wife's purchase of property from a state
body. It also has recommended indicting Thaksin's entire
cabinet for establishing a government lottery without
following proper procedures. The AEC continues its work, but
it remains unclear whether its investigations will produce
the sort of damning evidence against Thaksin that might erode
support for him in the rural areas where his populist
policies endeared him to voters. With Thaksin's popularity
in those areas -- and his wealth -- largely intact, the coup
leaders continue to feel Thaksin represents a substantial
threat, and rightfully so.

SUSPICIONS OF THAKSIN'S INFLUENCE WITH THE USG
--------------------------------------------- -

6. (SBU) Many Thais also fear that Thaksin, by hiring
American lobbyists and public relations firms, has been able
to win support from the USG. We have had to repeatedly
explain that our policy is based on principled support for
democracy, not on pressure from paid advocates. The
situation is further muddied by a public relations campaign
by some private American firms that has been highly critical
of Thailand's issuance of compulsory licenses for branded
prescription medicines, and has condemned in emotional terms
the nature of the post-coup government. In this context,
there are widespread Thai suspicions that our recent
placement of Thailand on the USTR Special 301 Priority Watch
List for IPR violations was in direct retaliation for the
RTG's issuance of compulsory licenses. We have repeatedly
said publicly that this is not the case; while the compulsory
licenses contributed to USTR's determination, they were one
of several factors, top among them being increased, open
availability of pirated apparel, software, and video and
music discs.

GOVERNMENT APPEARS SHAKY
------------------------

7. (SBU) The constant anxiety expressed about Thaksin's
lingering influence is exacerbated by the interim
administration's low level of public support. Although
Surayud Chulanont was popular with the public when he
received his appointment as Prime Minister, since then he has
been seen as largely ineffective. He appears ill-served by a
cabinet made up mostly of retired bureaucrats, and he has
proven himself averse to conducting a large scale reshuffle.
Consequently, rumors persist of a "re-coup," and some --
especially die-hard foes of Thaksin -- have expressed hope
that CNS Chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin would nudge
Surayud out of office and appoint himself as Prime Minister.

BANGKOK 00002930 003 OF 004


We have reinforced with Sonthi and others our opposition to
an active duty military officer heading the successor
administration.

RECONCILIATION POLICY DOESN'T HELP DOWN SOUTH
---------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) The Surayud government continues to pursue a
publicly conciliatory policy towards southern Malay-Muslims
which contrasts sharply with the approach of former PM
Thaksin. Surayud apologized for past abuses, said he would
talk with separatists, and reconstituted key security
coordination centers. Unfortunately, these positive gestures
are having little impact on the violence. After a brief
hiatus following the coup, attacks in the far South have
continued apace, and appear to be getting more brutal. In a
recent attack in March, eight van passengers -- all Buddhist
-- were killed execution-style. These and other horrific
attacks have triggered reprisal acts of violence, raising the
specter of communal violence.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS REMAINS A PROBLEM
------------------------------------------

9. (SBU) Reports of human rights violations have continued
since the September 2006 coup. Despite positive overtures
from high-level government officials, security forces
continued to use excessive force against criminal suspects
and were suspected of involvement in dozens of extrajudicial
killings. Reports of disappearances in the southern
provinces continued, and there were claims that that the
police tortured and abused detainees and prisoners. Members
of hill tribes without proper documentation continued to face
restrictions on their movement, could not own land, and were
not protected by labor laws.

10. (SBU) Human rights workers, particularly those focusing
on disappearances in the southern provinces, have experienced
government harassment. Little progress has been made in the
case of the disappearance in 2004 of prominent civil
liberties advocate Somchai Neelaphaijit, now presumed dead.
Responsibility for pursuing the case was recently transferred
from the Police Department's Special Investigative Division
to the National Counter-corruption Commission.

MIXED MESSAGE FOR PRESS FREEDOM
-------------------------------

11. (SBU) The authorities have now lifted almost all
post-coup restrictions on broadcast media. TV and radio
stations no longer host armed military "observers," and
almost all community radio stations have reopened.
Thailand's TV networks have taken advantage of the current
government's inexperience in media manipulation and are
criticizing the regime on a wide variety of issues, from its
failure to properly contain Thaksin's overseas PR campaign to
its inclusion of an amnesty provision in the draft
constitution.

12. (SBU) Recent moves to control the Internet have been more
problematic. The appointed government has blocked several
pro-Thaksin websites, and asked popular chatrooms to
self-censor some of the more personal attacks on coup
leaders. The government also blocked YouTube.com in Thailand
after the site refused to remove video clips deemed offensive
to the King. Facing international criticism, the government
seems to have backed away from such blatant censorship; they
have not blocked the new anti-coup "Hi-Thaksin.com" website,
and after YouTube.com agreed to remove 14 offensive clips,
the government now says it will lift the block.

BURMESE EXILE GROUPS AGITATE FOR CHANGE
---------------------------------------

13. (SBU) Like us, the RTG is frustrated with the continued
intransigence of Burma,s military junta. We continue to
urge Thailand to call publicly for the release of Aung San
Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners, and for the

BANGKOK 00002930 004 OF 004


initiation of a credible, inclusive political process in
Burma.

14. (SBU) Thai-based Burmese exiles have expressed concern
regarding recent attacks against ethnic Burmese populations
and the use of a regime-affiliated organization to conduct
attacks on and extra-legally detain citizens. The regime's
recent detention of students and other activists praying at
pagodas for the release of political prisoners, including
Aung San Suu Kyi, is especially worrisome. These recent
actions take place against a backdrop of ongoing human rights
violations, including the use of rape as a weapon against
civilian populations and conscription of child soldiers.

REFUGEE ASYLUM PROCESSING SUSPENDED
-----------------------------------

15. (SBU) The RTG recently told UNHCR that it wanted to place
conditions on its screening of asylum seekers to make Refugee
Status Determinations. UNHCR has responded that it will
continue to process cases already in the pipeline and
register, but not interview, new applicants while discussions
with the RTG on this issue are ongoing.

16. (SBU) Thailand accommodates large numbers of refugees on
its territory and has a generally positive record on refugee
treatment. More than 150,000 Burmese refugees live in
refugee camps close to Thailand,s border. In addition, more
than one million Burmese migrants work illegally within
Thailand. The U.S. resettled approximately 2,100 Burmese
refugees in FY2006 and we hope to resettle 13,000 in FY2007.

17. (SBU) More than 7,000 Hmong live in a refugee camp in
Petchaboon. While most are economic migrants, some may have
legitimate claims to refugee status. Thai and Lao
authorities are actively discussing the Petchaboon situation.
We, UNHCR, and other interested Embassies have proposed a
plan that would involve Thai screening of refugee claims,
international resettlement for refugees, and monitoring for
those who are not refugees and are returned to Laos.

FINAL WORD
----------

18. (U) Your visit will be most useful in reinforcing our
active advocacy of human rights in Thailand. I look forward
to your arrival.
BOYCE

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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