Rising clamour from countries in the ASEAN community may soon grow too loud for Thailand to ignore along with the potential fallout from a criminal case before the Thai courts which casts a light on the junta’s efforts and business networks set up to evade international sanctions with drug trafficking, money laundering and transnational criminal exploits in Thailand.
The outrage caused by Myanmar’s bloody dictator General Min Aung Hlaing’s inclusion this week in Time magazine’s list of 100 influential people just days after the massacre of 170 civilians including 38 children by Burmese jet bombers and military helicopters has spurred calls from human rights and democracy activists for greater scrutiny of how the junta regime is managing to evade sanctions as well as funding and equipping its faltering military campaign to subdue its own people. One focus of such enquiries is known to be its links with Thailand where the government continues to offer muted but tacit support for the discredited junta. It comes amid louder and louder calls from within the ASEAN community for governments to get tough and ‘take the gloves off’ against the renegade Burmese military regime. In January, Thai authorities, especially, were urged by Mr Charles Santiago, the Chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), to reveal what they know about connections between Myanmar’s junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing and criminal activities in Thailand. It comes after a Myanmar tycoon Dr Tun Min Latt with familial connections to Myanmar’s junta leadership, appeared in a Thai court along with the son-in-law of a sitting Thai senator, Dean Gultula, charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and transnational crime last December.
The atrocity committed by Myanmar’s military in the northwestern Sagaing region of the war-torn country near Mandalay last week continues to cause outrage coming just days before the renowned international current affairs magazine Time decided to name Myanmar’s military junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing in its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
On Friday last, a final tally prepared by the National Unity Government (NUG), which claims to be the legitimate government in Myanmar, showed that 168 people were killed in the appalling attack on civilians by military jets dropping bombs and later by strafe fire from Mi-35 helicopter gunships at what was the opening of a People’s Defense Armed Forces (PDF) linked field office in the ill-fated little village of Pa Zi Gy in the northwestern region of Myanmar which has been left a ghost town after most of its 800 inhabitants left the 100 home enclave in the days after the massacre having first burnt funeral pyres for their dead using tyres sourced urgently from the surrounding area.
The People’s Defense Armed Forces (PDF) is the official armed forces of the National Unity Government (NUG) formed in the aftermath of the 2021 coup d’état.
Final tally of 171 dead compiled indirectly as many corpses could not be designated as either male or female due to the horrific nature of the attack
The figure was later increased to 171 with additions supplied by those people on the ground responsible for disposing of the dead, many whose bodies could not be identified not only as to individual identities but also to differentiate between male and female such was the extent of the carnage.
The figures were compiled from people missing after the massacre and the final tally of the dead.
The death toll included 109 men, 24 women and 38 children, killed in what Myanmar’s authorities bullishly confirmed as a ‘terrorist strike’.
Within hours of the news from Time, Igor Blasevic, a Croatian human rights campaigner living in the Czech Republic, condemned the announcement.
He warned that the Myanmar dictator who is being linked with the deaths of tens of thousands since the civil war broke out in Myanmar in February 2021 as well as his key role in the genocidal persecution of the Rohingya Muslim population of the country as the Head of the feared and hated Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, will use the Time magazine accolade to bolster his position through his government controlled PR machine.
General Min Aung Hlaing vowed on March 27th to subdue the democratic National Unity Government (NUG) which controls over half of Myanmar
Indeed, Time magazine itself, which carried a picture of the military officer attending the country’s annual PR showpiece, its National Day celebrations in the isolated and more secure artificial capital of Nay Pyi Taw on March 27th referred to the military leader’s history of violence towards the people of Myanmar and his angry denunciation that day and vow to deal with the pro-democracy National Unity Government (NUG) which now controls over half Myanmar’s territory and includes among its makeup elected MPs from the November 2020 General Election in Myanmar which increased the majority of Aung San Suu Kyi National League for Democracy Party, thereby sparking the coup d’état.
The former de facto leader of the country has been again jailed by the junta in a series of sham trials based on trumped-up charges.
However, the deteriorating situation in Myanmar is set to pose a greater headache for Thai authorities as the ties between the junta and Thailand are increasingly difficult to maintain and the subject of scrutiny in the light of the atrocities being committed there with disturbing evidence that Myanmar’s ruling elite may be complicit in illegal activities using Thailand as an offshore base.
The silence of Thailand’s government which has up to now tended to offer Myanmar’s illegitimate government tacit support despite the country having become a pariah state with the junta regime even banned from sending a delegation to ASEAN summits as its status is becoming untenable.
Louder calls coming from within ASEAN nations for tougher action against the military junta in Myanmar
ASEAN parliamentarians have been calling for more detailed information on the criminal activities of the junta and General Min Aung Hlaing’s inner circle in Thailand.
The Economist Intelligence Unit recently labelled Myanmar as second only to the Taliban in Afghanistan as a reviled regime responsible for oppressing its population.
In January, a body called the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) called on Thai authorities to take further action concerning the dramatic arrest of 53-year-old Myanmar tycoon Dr Tun Min Latt who was arrested in Bangkok in a police raid in the early hours of September 17th last.
Swoops in Bangkok on the morning of September 17th 2022 showed the rule of law was alive and well in Thailand as Thai police arrested Burmese tycoon
The swoops across Bangkok led by a crack Metropolitan Police Bureau team overseen by officers such as Police Lieutenant Colonel Manapong showed that, despite widespread allegations of corruption within the Royal Thai Police, the police force can target crime impartially and is capable of operating effectively to enforce the rule of law.
Among the documents and assets seized by Thai police investigating an extensive case involving sophisticated cross-border money laundering and drug trafficking were deeds relating to a $1 million apartment and a bank account book held in a top Thai commercial bank linked to family members of General Min Aung Hlaing.
Sources suggest that Thai police did not pursue further enquiries concerning Dr Tun Min Latt’s possible links with family members of General Min Aung Hlaing including links through company holdings with his daughter, Ms Khin Thiri Thet Mon, in Myanmar, nor were their assets in Thailand seized as part of the probe following the raids on September 17th last.
General Min Aung Hlaing has a son and daughter who are already subject to US sanctions.
The case against Dr Tun Min Latt and the son-in-law of a senior Thai upper house member who strongly denies any involvement or knowledge of the controversy and claims the police probe into his affairs has a political motive, is currently before the Thai courts with the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) also pursuing separate enquiries concerning the involvement of the senator in relation to suspicions of money laundering and alleged transnational criminal activities which he vehemently denied when such charges were put to him by investigators.
Sitting Thai senator stoutly defends himself against an investigation by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) linking him with transnational crime
The sitting Thai senator is currently fiercely defending the probe by the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG), which also involves links with Thai state-owned enterprises such as a state-owned Thai provincial electricity generating company near the border with Myanmar and a network of companies that police allege were part of a scheme by the transnational crime gang charged before the courts with money laundering.
In a recent but complex submission to the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) and the Minister of Justice, the senator claimed that firms associated with him have become wrongfully embroiled in the controversy because of the arbitrary and extended nature of the police enquiries.
He explained that the ongoing investigation disrupted normal payment arrangements and necessitated extraordinary measures to allow a Municipal authority in Myanmar to pay its electricity bills.
Police chief orders probe into police officers who sought a rescinded arrest warrant for a sitting senator
In January, the chairman of the ASEAN parliamentary group urged Thai authorities to get to the bottom of the activities of Dr Tun Min Latt in Thailand and his links with Myanmar’s leadership.
Myanmar conglomerate tycoon with links to massive junta enterprises and the family of General Min Aung Hlaing sits awaiting his trial in a Thai prison
Dr Tun Min Latt, currently being held in a Thai prison pending trial on drug trafficking and money laundering charges, runs the Star Sapphire Group of companies, a conglomerate involved in arms and security equipment among other things including hotels.
Tun Min Latt and the son-in-law of the Thai senator, Thai-American Dean Gultula, were both charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and transnational crime on December 13th last before a Thai court.
‘The Thai authorities should conduct an investigation into the ties of Min Aung Hlaing and his family with the underworld, and make its findings public. If it is found that they have broken Thai laws, they should be charged in a Thai court,’ exhorted Mr Charles Santiago the Chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) in January 2023 in a forceful statement on the issue which is gradually rising to the top of the agenda in Southeast Asia and also internationally as the situation in Myanmar where the junta is waging war on its population captures the public’s attention.
Myanmar’s brutal junta regime accused of being involved in the narcotics trade by ASEAN parliamentarian and economist Mr Charles Santiago
‘Myanmar generals have been engaging in illicit businesses for decades. Senior officers like Min Aung Hlaing not only plunder Myanmar’s natural resources paying close to no taxes, but are also involved in the narcotics trade, or at the very least turn a blind eye to it and are paid for doing so,’ he added.
Mr Santiago, an economist by profession, is a Malaysian politician aligned with that country’s Democratic Action Party (DAP) who was a member of the Malaysian parliament until November 2022.
In early March, an ASEAN parliamentary group in Jakarta including representatives from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Myanmar itself urged stronger and more forceful action against the junta regime.
‘The crisis in Myanmar is causing a humanitarian catastrophe of gigantic proportions. The junta’s atrocities have displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes. Adding to previous displacements before the coup, the number of internally displaced persons in Myanmar now stands at more than a record 1.3 million. The sole responsible party for this disaster is the junta led by Min Aung Hlaing, and it is high time that ASEAN stop treating it with kid gloves. Strong pressure to isolate the Myanmar military is more imperative and urgent than ever,’ said Mercy Barends, member of the Indonesian House of Representatives and Chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
Thailand continues its quiet diplomacy which the junta takes advantage of as it plans to regain the initiative by staging sham elections in August 2023
However, the Thai government whose Minister of Foreign Affairs Deputy Prime Minister Don Pramudwinai took the unusual step last year of appointing a special representative on Myanmar, Ms Pornpimol Kanchanalak.
Thailand has, along with Cambodia and Laos, been seen as propping up the isolated junta through such endeavours as attending a regional conference there along with China to give an air of legitimacy to a regime which is more and more, seen to be at war with its own population, a population that this time is determined to overcome the tyranny being imposed on it.
In June last year, Ms Pornpimol warned that the international community should not engage in ‘cancel rhetoric’ concerning the discredited junta.
‘Condemnations, sanctions, ostracisation,’ she noted had ‘reached diminishing returns’ a plea made to those taking part in the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security and international affairs conference held in Singapore.
US officials told Singapore conference that the reviled junta regime was only interested in manipulation of the regional and international community
Many of the speakers at the conference including US State Department counsellor Derek Chollet signalled that it was now highly unlikely that Myanmar will return to democracy under this military regime and in the current environment of an all-out civil war.
The US official suggested that Myanmar’s junta was only interested in manipulating international and regional opinion as it loses support both within and outside its borders.
He was referring to planned elections by the junta, under highly restrictive conditions including a ban on pro-democracy parties such as the former ruling National League for Democracy Party, which are proposed by Myanmar for August 2023.
‘I think there’s no chance it could be free and fair, and it can be an attempt to just manipulate the region and the international community,’ Mr Chollet said.