'We didn't know two men had UN status'


Prawit defends Repatriation of Chinese dissidents, which us envoy says "should not have happened"

THE UNITED STATES reaffirmed yesterday its “disappointment” over the repatriation of two Chinese activists to China, while Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan claimed the international community – notably the United Nations – understood the move.
Last week, Thai authorities quietly deported two Chinese activists, Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei, who were recognised as refugees by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and were due to be settled in a third country.
Their families have not yet received official notice of their deportation.
US Ambassador Glyn Davies raised the issue during a meeting with Prawit yesterday, saying the deportation of the two activists should not have happened since they might be prosecuted and tortured in China.
The US, together with the UNHCR and other human rights defenders, strongly criticised the Thai government’s decision to repatriate the two activists.
While defending the government’s decision, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit said his government would from now on ask the United Nations refugee agency how to deal with foreign dissidents arrested in Thailand.
Prawit said the Immigration Bureau reported to him that the two were deported since they were wanted in Beijing in connection with human trafficking. The deputy premier, who oversees security matters, said he was not aware that the two activists had been recognised by the UN refugee agency.
 “I have already notified the UNHCR that we deported them in accordance with human rights principles,” Prawit told reporters and added that the UN understood Thailand’s action.
“Next time, if we have a similar case, we will ask the UN before making a decision,” he said.
Davies said he had also discussed with Prawit the role of China in the South China Sea. The US wants Thailand and Asean to take a leading role in dealing with China on the matter in order to have China comply with international obligations and refrain from using force to solve the problem.
The South China Sea has become a hot issue in the region in recent years as several Asean members, notably the Philippines and Vietnam, have territorial disputes with China.
US President Barack Obama demanded during last week’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila and the Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur that China stop building artificial islands in the troubled sea and guarantee freedom of navigation.
 On relations with Thailand, Davies said he hoped ties would continue as usual as the two countries have had military relations for more than 60 years. The regional joint exercise of Cobra Gold would continue next year on the same scale as this year, he said.
Cobra Gold is a multilateral military exercise and a good chance for countries in the region to cooperate on disaster and humanitarian missions, he said.
Relations between Thailand and the US have cooled since the military coup last year. Washington has strongly criticised the junta and its government, demanding a quick restoration of democracy and respect for human rights in the country.
Prawit told reporters that Thailand was already democratic, since the government had followed steps in the road map which would lead eventually to an election.