U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with six youth leaders from Myanmar (also known as Burma) in Bangkok on Sunday during a trip in which he urged regional countries to do more to pressure Myanmar's military government to return to democratic rule.
Myanmar remains mired in civil unrest after a military coup toppled the country's civilian-led government in February 2021.
More than 91,000 displaced people from Burma are currently living in Thailand, some after fleeing persecution from the military government.
Blinken spoke for nearly an hour with the Thailand-based youth leaders about the situation in their home country.
The group discussed the need for more humanitarian assistance to Burmese refugees, a proposal to release part of the $1 billion frozen by the United States government and to apply allotments on civilian programs such as on-line education, as well as concerns over treatment of ethnic minorities in Burma's Rakhine state. Following the talks, Blinken told journalists the leaders "are committed as ever to building a democratic future."
Washington blocked the Burmese junta's attempt to move about $1 billion held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York days after the junta seized power on Feb. 1, 2021. An executive order issued by President Joe Biden gave U.S. officials legal authority to block those funds indefinitely.
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thailand-based nonprofit human rights organization, estimates the Burmese junta has killed more than 2,000 people, with more than 11,000 still detained since the coup in February 2021. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced.
On Sunday, Blinken condemned the repression exacted by Myanmar's junta while urging China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to pressure the military rulers to restore democracy, as well as to adhere to a peace deal it agreed to last year.
"Thailand should engage with the shadow government, or NUG (civilian-led National Unity Government,) in order to bring about the end of the apparent civil war in Myanmar," Thanet Aphornsuvan, who heads an ASEAN studies program at Thailand-based Thammasat University, told VOA.
"Nevertheless, in reality, the Thai army have had long good relations with the Burmese junta. Therefore, the Thai government will not recognize and support the NUG unless ASEAN takes a drastic position" and intervenes, he added.
The NUG is a parallel government formed by ousted elected officials and some ethnic leaders in opposition to the military.
Sunday's meeting followed a similar meeting in July 2021 where the top U.S. diplomat spoke virtually with representatives of Burma's civil society to express the U.S. commitment to work with the people of Burma to support democracy, human rights and the rule of law.