Thailand clears Falungong meeting in Bangkok

BANGKOK, Feb 20 (AFP) -Thailand will not ban a controversial meeting of some 500 Falungong practitioners due to take place in April, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said Tuesday.

Surakiart said Thailand will consider requests by members of the spiritual sect to meet here on the condition that they do not use it as an opportunity to attack China.

"We will tell them what kind of activities they can undertake and which ones they cannot," he told reporters.

"But legal action will be taken if they violate the agreement," Surakiart added.

The Falungong has yet to make a formal request for permission to gather in Bangkok, he said.

Thai police chief General Pornsak Durongkaviboon said officers were keeping a close watch on the activities of Falungong members in Thailand.

Pornsak stressed that Thailand does not have a law banning the group from the country, but urged the sect not to hold a meeting in Thailand.

"They should not hold the meeting here if it is not necessary," he said.

"We want to keep good relations with China," Pornsak added.

The Thai-Chinese community and Buddhist associations recently called on the government to prevent such a meeting from going ahead here.

"Falungong is an evil cult. Their presence here will destabilise Thai society," said Norrarat Tangpakorn, president of the Thai-Chinese Journalists' Welfare Foundation.

The Thai foreign ministry said last week that China had lodged an official protest with the embassy in Beijing over the upcoming conference, which would be attended by both Thai and overseas Falungong practitioners.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said China hopes foreign nations and governments will be vigilant against hosting the activities of the Falungong cult, which he said would bring serious harm to local governments, and "make the right decision."

A spokesman for the Falungong movement in Thailand, Noppadol Ekbutr, said the conference was organised in good faith, and that it would be open to the public, including the press and government officials.

"The theme of the meeting is an exchange of views and experiences among us and it will have nothing to do with politics at all," he said.

The group says there are about 1,000 Falungong followers in Thailand, who hold regular sessions in parks around Bangkok to practise the movement's trademark breathing and exercise routines.