BANGKOK - Thailand made its strongest statement so far about the turmoil in neighbouring Myanmar when Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said Wednesday he disapproved of post-coup violence by the Burmese junta that has killed close to 600 pro-democracy protesters.
The former army general and ex-Thai junta leader made the remarks days after Thailand's friend China â€“ as well as Russia â€“ threw their support behind a special summit of Southeast Asian nations' leaders to discuss the crisis in Myanmar.
China's reaction to the coup had been muted, just as when Prayuth, as the Royal Thai Army chief of staff, seized power in a military coup that toppled an elected government in 2014.
"It is not that we don't care about humanitarian problems â€“ a life is a life â€“ but the government proposes solutions to the problems via the foreign ministry," Prayuth told reporters, in what appeared to be a defense of his government's relatively muted response on the volatile situation in Myanmar since the military there overthrew a democratically elected government on Feb. 1.
"We cannot do anything we want, because we have common borders [with Myanmar] and we rely on each other for many things. But we certainly do not agree with violence and we have said so to them, and have kept telling them to reduce [violence]."
The Thai PM further said "we have to fix the troubles systemically" in Myanmar. He also noted that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was planning to soon hold a special meeting in Jakarta of leaders from across the regional bloc.
Notably, the announcement by ASEAN members Malaysia and Brunei that a leaders' summit would be held on Myanmar, came three days after China said it supported such a meeting. However, the bloc still has not yet announced a date for the special summit.
The fastidiously non-interfering bloc has for more than two months not been able to reach a consensus on how to deal with the junta in member-state Myanmar.
Last week, after the single deadliest day in post-coup Myanmar when the military and security forces killed 114 civilians during anti-junta protests on March 27, the Thai foreign ministry for the first time in two months expressed grave concern about the situation in the country next-door.
By contrast, on the day of the Burmese coup, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan had said "It's their own business, it's their internal affair."
And on March 22, a Thai Army spokesman denied a local media report that a Thai border security agency had supplied 700 sacks of rice to the Myanmar Army base of operations in Karen state, which sits along the Thai-Myanmar frontier. The spokesman said any transaction that took place was part of "usual border trade."
The apparent change in the rhetoric from senior Thai officials coincided with an influx into Thailand of people fleeing from the violence in Myanmar.
Thousands of ethnic Karen fled their homes in Karen state after the military's March 27 air strikes on villages controlled by Karen National Union (KNU) rebels, who hold large swathes of territory in the borderlands with Thailand.
On Wednesday, Prayuth said relevant agencies were helping the displaced people by bringing them critical food and medical supplies.
"In the past also, in many cases of people affected by the fighting [in Myanmar] the military has saved people by letting many inside for medical treatment," Prayuth said.
According to Pornsuk Kerdsawang, from Thai NGO Friends Without Borders Foundation, the Myanmar military on Monday allowed a cargo ship from Thailand to deliver aid across the border.
"On April 8, the Thai military will take five vehicles to help carry goods from the Red Cross and deliver them to those displaced people. As for us, we assessed this as a breakthrough in assistance," Pornsuk told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Pornsuk said that helicopters and drones were heard on Tuesday flying around on the Myanmar side of the border in Karen state. She said she worried that the unrest along the frontier could threaten the rice season for local farmers.
"[I]f the situation is still like this, they will be in trouble. Because they cannot grow rice, they will not have rice to eat, so we insist on our statement that we would like the government to provide assistance that takes into account long-term solutions," Pornsuk said.
"Because even if the Myanmar villagers [on the Myanmar side of the border] were given the aid that people sent, it's not a success â€“ just a solution to the immediate problems."
On April 2, Prayuth instructed all relevant relief agencies to give medical and other assistance to the 1,200 or so people who had crossed into Thailand, a Thai government spokesman, told reporters.
Earlier last week, human rights and refugee advocacy groups had criticized the Thai PM for allegedly ordering the military to push the refugees back across the border into their strife-torn country.
Meanwhile, Myanmar troops again fired at anti-coup protesters on Wednesday, killing at least 15 people and wounding several in the country's northwest, news agencies reported.
The death toll in the post-coup violence has reached at least 598, according to Thai NGO Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
In addition, Myanmar citizens are struggling with shortages of food and other necessities after 65 days of rule under the military junta, whose troops steal goods and cash from vehicles, stores, and homes, residents told the Myanmar Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA), with which BenarNews is affiliated.
Indonesian, British FMs meet
The continuing violence in Myanmar prompted Indonesia and the United Kingdom on Wednesday to reiterate calls for a halt to the brutality.
"[I]ndonesia and the U.K. are appalled that hundreds of peaceful protesters have been killed in Myanmar," said a statement issued by Britain, after a meeting of the two countries' foreign ministers in Jakarta.
"Both countries agreed on the importance of ASEAN as the pre-eminent regional institution and a key part of the Rules-Based International System to find acceptable solutions based on the will and the interests of the people in Myanmar."
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said she and her British counterpart, Dominic Raab, had discussed how the U.K. and the international community could support ASEAN's effort to help Myanmar resolve the turmoil there.