BANGKOK, Thailand — Interior Minister Sanan Khachornprasart said Saturday that the siege at the Myanmar Embassy here was a wake-up call for Thailand.
Five young, heavily armed dissidents who stormed the embassy Friday and held 89 people hostage were given safe passage out of the country earlier Saturday when they freed their captives unharmed.
The 25-hour standoff ended after a night of tense negotiations in which the gunmen, members of a previously unknown group calling itself the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors, said they would start shooting hostages unless Myanmar met various demands, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners. Myanmar used to be known as Burma.
Bangkok, the Thai capital, is home to several Myanmar dissident groups, but a spokesman for them said he had not heard of the Student Warriors, who apparently were operating independently. Hundreds of thousands of Myanmars also work in Thailand, many illegally.
The Bangkok Post reported that four of the hostage-takers were believed to have entered Thailand on Wednesday after telling immigration officials at the border that they wanted to see the representative of the Office of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees in the capital.
Talking to reporters Saturday, Sanan said: "Thailand is a Buddhist country and kind to people who turn to us for shelter. That attitude makes us vulnerable, and we let our guard slip sometimes. From now on, we will be more strict and careful."
He added that Thailand had provided safe passage for the gunmen, whom Myanmar's military government had branded terrorists, because they were not terrorists but people seeking democracy in their own country.
The raiders entered the embassy compound in downtown Bangkok just before lunch Friday with AK-47s and grenades in two guitar cases. They passed through metal detectors but, for reasons that are unclear, no alarm was activated.
Once inside the embassy, they put on red headbands and lowered the Myanmar flag, replacing it with one depicting a fighting peacock--the symbol of the Myanmar dissident movement. One of the gunmen was quoted as saying they were "ready to die in action."
In addition to the prisoner release, the gunmen demanded the start of a dialogue between Myanmar's ruling generals and its pro-democracy movement, headed by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and the seating of a parliament elected in 1990. The military nullified that election and kept power.
Although none of those demands were met, Thailand provided minivans to take the dissidents to Thailand Air Force Academy in central Bangkok and a helicopter to fly them to Ratchaburi, on the Thai-Myanmar border.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sukhumbhand Paribatra and a Thai refugee official, Chaiyapruik Sawaengchareon, accompanied the gunmen on the helicopter trip to the border, 62 miles west of Bangkok, to guarantee their safe passage after the release of the hostages--51 Myanmars and 38 others.
"We didn't talk much because it was rather tense in the helicopter," Chaiyapruik said afterward. "With guns pointed at our heads, no Thai officials were in the mood or had the nerve to ask them about their affiliation."
One of the hostages, a Canadian who was in the embassy applying for a tourist visa, told Reuters news agency: "I'm glad I'm free now. I was awake all night. We didn't get to eat until 2 a.m. We were treated fine."