Boris Johnson discusses Rohingya, elections in Thailand

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, left, shakes hands with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha during their meeting at the Government House, in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. (Narong Sangnak/Pool Photo via AP)
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, center left, talks with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha during their meeting at the Government House, in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. The portrait of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun is seen at center top. (Narong Sangnak/Pool Photo via AP)
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, left, talks with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha during their meeting at the Government House, in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. (Narong Sangnak/Pool Photo via AP)

BANGKOK — British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met Monday with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and other Thai officials and discussed neighboring Myanmar's persecution of ethnic Rohingya Muslims and plans for elections in Thailand to end military rule.

A statement from Britain's Foreign & Commonwealth Office said their discussions also covered "cooperation on education, the digital economy, science and innovation, financial technology, and trade and investment, as well as further co-operation to tackle the Illegal Wildlife Trade."

"Our relationship with Thailand spans a broad range of issues from bilateral trade and investment to regional security and the Illegal Wildlife Trade," the statement quoted Johnson saying. "I look forward to further strengthening the UK's relationship with Thailand in the future."

Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, one of the officials who met with Johnson, told reporters that the British government is especially concerned about the plight of the Rohingya. About 700,000 members of the Muslim minority have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence by Myanmar security forces that has been characterized by some human rights experts as ethnic cleansing.

Johnson is in Thailand after visiting Bangladesh, where he met Rohingya refugees, and Myanmar, where he held talks on the Rohingya situation with the country's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

In Myanmar, Johnson also visited areas in the western state of Rakhine, the site of the violence that drove the Rohingya to flee.

Plans to repatriate the Rohingya have been made by Bangladesh and Myanmar, but are a major concern of the international community. Human rights advocates insist that any repatriation be carried out under verifiably safe conditions.

"Shocked at what I saw during tour of northern #Rakhine," Johnson wrote on Twitter. "The devastation of hundreds of villages torched. UK already a major donor to crisis and will continue to use our influence to provide a better future for the #Rohingya community."

"In the eyes of the British government right now, they are putting an emphasis on fixing the issue of Rohingya in Rakhine state, first and foremost," Don said, adding that Britain did not ask for the Thai government's help in the matter.

Thailand's military seized power from an elected government in 2014. Johnson's visit Monday follows a European Union decision last December to ease political sanctions on Thailand imposed after the coup.

Don said Johnson was not concerned by the ruling junta's most recent election date postponement, after several earlier promised deadlines for a return to an elected government passed.

"They are not pressuring Thailand to hold elections because they do not see it as having any impact on England," Don said.

Johnson's visit to Thailand came after an official visit last Friday by Italy's foreign minister, and will be followed by the French deputy foreign minister on Tuesday. Thai Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitak said last Friday that the trips are a sign of improved relations between Thailand and European nations following the EU's easing of sanctions.

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