(Thai) PM going to Burma, but human rights off agenda
Banagkok Post, 13 March 2008
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej will pay an official visit Burma Friday where he will avoid sensitive topics such as internal affairs, human rights and conflicts with minority groups, a government spokesman said Thursday.
Samak, who became Thailand‘s 25th prime minister on January 28, will depart for Naypyitaw, Myanmar‘s new military capital, on a special Thai Air Force flight from Bangkok‘s Don Muang Airport at 7:45 local time Friday, said government spokesman Lieutenant General Wichienchote Suchoterat.
He will meet with Burma‘s military supremo Senior General Than Shwe and hold talks with the junta about Thailand‘s business interests in natural gas and hydro-electric dams.
“He will not discuss Burma‘s internal affairs, human rights nor conflicts with minority groups although these issues may be raised at the upcoming ASEAN summit,” said Wichienchote.
Bangkok will host the annual summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) later this year.
While in Naypyitaw, which is situated 350 kilometres north of the old capital in Yangon, Samak will also witness the signing of an investment protection agreement between the two countries, a foreign ministry source said.
The agreement is designed to encourage more Thai investment in Myanmar and strengthen cooperation between the two neighbouring countries.
Thailand currently ranks as Burma‘s third largest foreign investor, with investments reaching 1.34 billion dollars as of last year. The United Kingdom ranks first with 1.56 billion dollars worth of investments in Myanmar, while Singapore comes second with 1.43 billion, according to figures compiled by Thailand‘s Foreign Trade Department.
Thailand also ranks among Burma‘s leading trade partners.
In 2007, Thai imports from Burma (primarily natural gas), amounted to 80.03 billion baht (2.5 billion dollars), up 9.8 per cent on 2006 figures, while Thai exports to the country amounted to 33.06 billion baht (1.05 billion dollars), a 14.6 per cent rise.
Thailand‘s close economic ties with the regime are in stark contrast to those of most Western democracies, such as the US and the European Union, both of which have imposed new economic sanctions on the country in the wake of its brutal crackdown on anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks last September.
Such sanctions are deemed ineffective as long as Burma‘s main economic allies Thailand, India and China, refuse to follow suit. dpa