Graham Kelly: Voice of the Liverpool fans can prove decisive

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The Independent Football

Thaksin Shinawatra's representative announced with some pride that the Thai prime minister was assured of two seats on the Liverpool board on the same day last week that Amnesty International published its 2004 report.

It was a desperate irony that Anfield's prospective saviour should find himself targeted alongside Russia, Israel, Palestinian militants, Nepal, Iran, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea and China for committing grave abuses of human rights.

When the story of the Thai/Liverpool link-up first broke, one commentator wrote that all the fans were interested in was a winning team, but is this really the case? Not only has Thaksin's government conducted a violent and bloody war against alleged drugs criminals, which has resulted in more than 2,000 extrajudicial deaths at the hands of the police, but more than 100 Muslims have been slain and last year the former policy of humanitarianism towards Burmese asylum seekers was abandoned. Neighbouring Burma has long suffered from a repressive military government, now imaginatively named the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

The prime minister decided to seek better relations with the SPDC in Rangoon and consequently many thousands of exiled Burmese were placed in jeopardy. He persuaded the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to suspend its screening of new asylum seekers from Burma. This has resulted in a deluge of calls and visits by people seeking protection and not knowing where to turn. Asylum seekers and international relief agencies received scant notice of the abrupt suspension.

Bangkok's about-turn was taken notwithstanding the absolutely dreadful conditions in Burma: forced labour, persecution of dissidents, conscription of children, rape of ethnic minority women and children by government troops, and compulsory relocation.

The UNHCR hopes that refugee status determination procedures will be resumed. However, the Thai government will probably be undertaking this task, so many Burmese could be turned away and forced back to their homeland, because Thailand has usually applied a narrow definition of "refugees" as "persons fleeing armed conflict", rather than abiding by the broader definition relating to fear of persecution.

Consequently, contrary to one of the basic principles of international law, many Burmese now living in Thailand will risk deportation to a country where their lives or liberty are in jeopardy.

Under the terms of a Memorandum of Agreement between Thailand and Burma, the Thai government is now deporting 400 Burmese nationals a month directly into a holding centre in Burma operated by the Burmese military.

Thousands of Burmese refugees living in the Thai capital, Bangkok, and other urban areas were moved out to camps at the Thai-Burma border. There they have experienced much-reduced freedom of expression. They have little choice in the matter of relocation and face the risk of losing their valued documents if they object. Many exiles are living in hiding in Thailand scared of exposure to the authorities by their Thai neighbours, which in urban areas is always likely to happen, as the UNHCR regularly passes names, addresses and photographs of Burmese refugees and asylum-seekers to the authorities. Rather than be sent to the camps, many are likely to simply go underground.

It appears the £60minjection is sorely needed by Liverpool if they are to buy new players and prevent Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United from disappearing over the horizon and, moreover, seal relocation to a new stadium. However, it is rumoured that some of the Eastern riches will merely serve to enrich shareholders, including 51 per cent owner and chairman David Moores, who has traditionally been regarded by the fans in a kindly light.

The potential ownership of just under 30 per cent of one of our greatest clubs by a head of government who has blood on his hands raises some interesting questions, not least for our own government, whose minister for sport, Richard Caborn, has wrung his hands metaphorically and ineffectively, saying that he preferred clubs to be part of their local communities.

Also, the FA has yet to publish its long-promised "fit and proper person" test for those wishing to own and administer football clubs. This case could demonstrate just how difficult that principle is.

Who is the FA to make moral judgments on the colour of an investor's money? Why should Thaksin Shinawatra's cheque be returned to sender and not Roman Abramovich's? The FA should be judging whether a person's record in business or in football is such that he or she is capable of running a club.

As we are continually reminded there are plenty of people already in the game to whom the FA could usefully apply some investigative rigour. The scandals of the obscene payments to agents just won't go away.

Eventually, I believe the views of the Liverpool fans on an investment by a government with such a dubious record will be conclusive.

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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