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(New York) -- President George W. Bush should use his June 10 meeting with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to raise concerns about the recent wave of extrajudicial killings in Thailand and the need for pressure on the Burmese military government to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Human Rights Watch said in a letter today to the U.S. president.

Human Rights Watch said that the United States should also focus on encouraging ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to press for an end to political attacks on Suu Kyi and her supporters.

"President Bush should make clear that the United States expects Thailand to observe due process in its war on drugs and to allow independent and credible investigations into the more than 2,000 killings in recent months, " said Brad Adams, Asia Division Director of Human Rights Watch. "Thailand must also assume its responsibility within ASEAN to address the attacks on Suu Kyi and her supporters and insist on genuine political reform."

Thailand's status as one of the leading rights-respecting democracies in Southeast Asia has been called into question by its violent "war on drugs." In response to a spiraling problem of drug use and drug trafficking, Thai police have conducted an anti-drug campaign in recent months in which more than 2,000 persons have died in apparent extrajudicial killings and more than 50,000 have been arrested, many arbitrarily.

The Thai government claims that 51 persons were killed by police in self-defense and the rest in internecine battles among drug dealers. Few in Thailand find this explanation credible. Somchai Homlaor, secretary-general of Forum Asia, the highly respected Bangkok-based human rights group, says, "In many provinces, there are death squads roaming around killing drug dealers. The rule of law and democracy could disappear overnight." Prime Minister Thaksin seemed to give his blessing to the killings when he said, "In this war, drug dealers must die."

"While there is no doubt that there is a serious drug use problem in Thailand, it is the responsibility of Thai authorities to tackle the problem in ways that respect basic rights," said Adams. "This widespread use of violence represents a major step backwards to the dark days of military rule in Thailand."

Human Rights Watch wrote President Bush that "[s]hould the human rights violations continue and no independent and credible investigations are conducted into these killings, the United States should make it clear that it will have a significant impact on U.S.-Thai relations, including in the area of counter-narcotics, and call into question the leadership role Thailand has assumed in the region."

Human Rights Watch also called on President Bush to ask Prime Minister Thaksin to take strong steps in public and private to insist to the military government in Burma that it end the persecution of its political opponents and take concrete and good-faith steps towards political reforms. The recent violence against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters, and the refusal of the Burmese government to allow a U.N. envoy to meet Suu Kyi, are unacceptable.

Human Rights Watch said it welcomed the administration's strong statement condemning the violence and the investigation of the State Department into the events of May 30--and its candid conclusions of state responsibility.

"A cornerstone of ASEAN is its policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states," Adams said in the letter. "The governments in Burma, Thailand and other ASEAN states have insisted that private diplomacy would nurture a process of political reform. Both non-interference and private diplomacy have failed, and in the process embarrassed ASEAN and threatened regional stability."

Human Rights Watch urged President Bush to tell Prime Minister Thaksin that the United States expects Thailand to take a leadership role in insisting to the military government in Rangoon that it make good on its promises of political reform. These reforms must include a genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, the release of political prisoners and detainees, an end to forced labor and the use of child soldiers, and a halt to offensive military activities against ethnic minority groups that have resulted in large-scale death, injury and displacement for the civilian population.

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