JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Kieren, we had hoped that when martial law was declared on the 20th of May there would be sufficient security in place for negotiations to continue between the political parties so that we could see a return to democracy. We are gravely concerned by this regrettable development, that a coup has been declared, that the military chief General Prayuth has assumed all government functions and that the caretaker government is no longer the government.
A curfew has been imposed, the military are effectively in control of the country. We urge for a return to dialogue, a return to discussions about how Thailand can get back on the path to elections and that the will of the people is respected. However, we are concerned about any post-coup government and whether that would have the support of all of the people, and so the situation is very volatile. We urge Australians who are in Thailand to exercise a very high degree of caution during this time.
KIEREN GILBERT: Minister, is it possible that this is a positive here in Thailand that the military can provide the stability given how fierce and entrenched the divisions are between the urban elite and those in the rural areas which are really behind the divisions in that country.
JULIE BISHOP: We understand that the reason given by the army for taking over the functions of government is that they wanted to preserve peace and stability, that they wanted to avoid violence. Our Ambassador in Bangkok James Wise is seeking more information from the authorities as to the reasons behind it because it was only a couple of days ago that martial law was declared but the army insisted that it was not a coup. So we need to understand the reasons behind this change of heart and the imposition not only of martial law but of the military assuming all the functions of government.
We understand there was a meeting yesterday, a second meeting yesterday, with all the representatives of all the various parties including the electoral commission and the police. But that meeting broke up without resolution - some people were detained we understand - so we don’t know what happened to those negotiations. Clearly, the army was sufficiently concerned that they imposed this coup and a curfew.
KIEREN GILBERT: Now how do you reflect though on the state of play there in Thailand in terms of the opposing sides. We have seen the democratically elected government faced these fierce protests in Bangkok for many many months. What are the prospects in Thailand of a democratically elected stable government?
JULIE BISHOP: It is very difficult to see where this will end because the country seems so polarised between the anti-government and the pro-government forces. Regrettably there has been violence, there has been bloodshed and this is not the first time there has been a military coup in Thailand – I think it is the 19th coup in about 80 years – but regrettably this means that the path to a return to democratically elected government is going to be stalled.
We had hoped with the imposition of martial law there would be sufficient security in place for the parties to come together to negotiate. We do urge that the parties put aside their differences, stop the violence, and talk about what’s in the best interests of the people of Thailand. We believe that political stability, sustained political stability, will only come about with a democratically elected government.
KIEREN GILBERT: Can you repeat for us this morning Minister the advice to Australians who are in Bangkok and Thailand more broadly?
JULIE BISHOP: Well Kieren we understand there are about 28,500 Australians in Thailand at any one time, probably about 10,000 in Bangkok, but only about 5,500 or thereabouts are registered. So we urge people who are thinking of travelling to Thailand or those who are in Thailand to log onto the Smartraveller website – www.smartraveller.gov.au – register their travel plans and also to exercise a very high degree of caution, get regular updates on travel advice from the Government through the Smarttraveller website. But please avoid the usual areas for protests, the demonstration sites and stay away from any likely protest areas and also obviously obey the curfew and the directions of local authorities.
KIEREN GILBERT: Finally I want to ask you about a vote at the UN Security Council overnight Australian time, there in New York the Australian Ambassador moved this resolution to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. This was once again vetoed by China and Russia. What is your reaction to that, it seems that those two countries will block any substantive action against the Assad regime, every time it is put up.
JULIE BISHOP: We are deeply disappointed that Russia and China chose to block this resolution to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. The United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights maintains there are war crimes and there are crimes against humanity that have been going on in Syria for some time. We know of the incidences of the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people.
The population of about 20 million is on the move, about half of that population have either fled or have been displaced and the violence is ongoing. We are disappointed because there was a clear showing of international support for a referral to the International Criminal Court so that these crimes can be accounted for and that people can be held to account. All thirteen members of the United Nations Security Council apart from Russia and China supported the referral and it was co-sponsored by about 65 other nations. So clearly there was international will to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. Australia is also sponsoring the resolution on humanitarian grounds and I hope that that will receive support from Russia and China.
I have been in Jordan and Lebanon recently – the adjoining countries – and I have seen firsthand the number of refugees who are leaving Syria, heard their stories about how horrific life has been in Syria over the last few years. This is the fourth year of this conflict in Syria and the actions of the government should have been referred to the International Criminal Court. In the meantime, we must deal with this massive humanitarian disaster.
KIEREN GILBERT: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop thank you so much for your time.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.
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