Falun Gong cancels Bangkok meeting

BANKGOK, Thailand (AP) -- Thai followers of the Falun Gong group have canceled plans to hold a conference in Bangkok in April amid pressure from the Thai government.

Anxious to protect its relations with China where the meditation sect is banned, the Thai government and the ethnic Chinese community in Thailand has pressured the group to drop its plans.

Falun Gong organizers said they canceled the conference to avoid social divisiveness in Thailand.

In a statement faxed to The Associated Press, the group said that on the advice of Maj. Gen. Amarin Niemskul, commander of the special branch division of the Thai police, they had "unilaterally decided to cancel" the April 21-22 meeting and withdraw invitations to foreign participants.

"As Falun Gong believes in meditation and peaceful coexistence, we decided to cancel the conference in order to maintain the unity of people in Thai society," said Sunataya Samkoses, a Thai practitioner of Falun Gong. "We do not want to create conflict and disunity."

Beijing, which usually professes a policy of noninterference in other countries' affairs, had applied enormous diplomatic pressure on the Thai government to have the meeting banned, according to local media reports.

Beijing describes Falun Gong an "evil cult" and has reportedly sent thousands of its members to labor camps.

Falun Gong was banned by China in 1999, and Thai authorities have been reluctant to give the group a free rein to prevent relations with China from souring.

Last Wednesday, a Falun Gong spokesman in Thailand had said there were no plans to abandon the scheduled meeting.

However, high-ranking police and government officials had taken a hard line and said the meeting would be subject to limits.

Local overseas Chinese groups such as the Thai-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which usually shun any open involvement in political affairs, reiterated the Chinese government line in describing Falun Gong as an evil cult and urging that the meeting be banned.