By Aung Hla Tun
YANGON (Reuters) - Over 20,000 people crammed into a sports stadium in Myanmar to protest against alleged Thai backing of separatist militias, the latest sign of worsening relations between the two Southeast Asian neighbours.
State radio said speakers at Saturday's rally, held in Kengtung, in Shan state northeast of Yangon, recalled the centuries-old rivalry between the two countries and accused Thailand of trying to weaken and destabilise Myanmar.
Thailand and military-ruled Myanmar have become embroiled in a war of words over military skirmishes on their common border in the last week, each side accusing the other of backing rival drug-running forces.
"It is known to all that Yodaya throughout history, has given assistance to any insurgents who would give trouble to Myanmar with intent to make Myanmar weak, undeveloped and unstable," one speaker said, referring to the Myanmar word for Thailand's former capital, Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya was destroyed by invading Burmese forces in 1767.
"Yodaya has rendered assistance to any armed insurgents in Myanmar. Yodaya provides them with arms, food and shelter. Yodaya also helped them in recruitment," the speaker said.
"We must bravely crush those who are harming the sovereignty along the border area and wipe out all destructive activities of insurgents," she urged the crowd, which included villagers, representatives of social groups, the Myanmar red cross and the fire brigade.
On Sunday the Myanmar-Thai border remained tense.
Thai officials told Reuters a police patrol had exchanged fire with a group of 20 men, believed to be from the United Wa State Army (UWSA), an ethnic army which has signed a peace deal with the Myanmar junta and is believed to be the world's biggest narco-army.
One policeman and one of the group were killed in the clash in a border district of Thailand's Chiang Mai province.
Tempers between the two countries began to flare last month when Thailand sent thousands of troops to the northern border with Myanmar.
They were ostensibly there for exercises but military sources said the move was a prelude to an attack on the forces of the Golden Triangle's most notorious drug baron, Wei Hsueh-Kang, who commands a faction of the Wa army.
Myanmar angrily denied it had ever given permission for Thailand to target the Wa army and hinted it could even take military action if diplomacy failed to resolve the row.
Last week Thailand's government ordered its troops to withdraw, but sporadic clashes are still erupting along the border.
The Myanmar government, accusing the Thai army of backing Myanmar separatist militias from the Karen and Shan ethnic groups operating along the border, has closed border crossings and expelled hundreds of Thai workers.
Myanmar expells 500 Thais as tension simmers -media
BANGKOK, June 2 (Reuters) - Myanmar has expelled some 500 Thai workers, a Thai newspaper reported on Sunday, in a further sign of deteriorating relations between the two Southeast Asian neighbours.
Myanmar and Thailand have been embroiled in a war of words over military skirmishes on their common border in the last week, each side accusing the other of backing rival drug-running forces.
The English language daily, Bangkok Post said about 100 Thai workers at Myanmar's Regina Club resort in Tachilek, opposite Thailand's northern Chiang Rai province, were told to cross back to Thailand immediately.
The paper said another 400 workers at a coal mine run by Thailand's Italian-Thai , opposite Thailand's southern province of Prachuap Khiri Khan, were told to return home by military personnel who cited border tension.
The expulsion virtually forced the mine to suspend operations, the newspaper said.
But Myanmar officials told Reuters they did not officially ask anyone to leave the country.
Tempers flared between the two countries this month when Thailand sent thousands of troops to the northern border with Myanmar.
They were ostensibly there for exercises but military sources said the move was a prelude to an attack on the forces of the Golden Triangle's most notorious drug baron, Wei Hsueh-Kang.
Wei commands a faction of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), an ethnic minority army which signed a ceasefire deal with the junta in 1989 and is widely believed to be the world's biggest narco-army.
Myanmar denied it had ever given permission for Thailand to attack the Wa army and hinted it could take military action if diplomacy failed to resolve the row. Last week Thailand's government ordered its troops to withdraw, but sporadic clashes are still erupting along the border.
Myanmar has accused the Thai army of backing ethnic minority Karen and Shan rebel groups.
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Thaksin `too soft' in bid to end row with Rangoon
Democrat says junta `despises weakness'
(Bangkok Post) - A yielding Thai government will fail to
settle the Thai-Burmese border conflict because Burma does not respect weakness,
the opposition said yesterday.
M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra, a Democrat list MP and former deputy foreign minister, said the opposition had quietly warned the Thaksin Shinawatra administration several times that it was too soft on Burma.
M.R. Sukhumbhand said the government appeared meek in the face of strong criticism by the Burmese media and seemed reluctant to guard its own frontier after skirmishes between Thai and Burmese forces erupted a week ago.
Rather than keeping troops at the border to protect the country's sovereignty, the government abruptly ended a military exercise there and told the military to pull out, he said.
Mr Thaksin even ordered the military not to over-react despite the fact that intrusions onto Thai soil were threats against lives and property, the Democrat said.
M.R. Sukhumbhand said the government had tied the military's hands by barring soldiers from retaliating.
``Relenting gives Burma an impression that Thailand is weak,'' M.R. Sukhumbhand said.
Politicians must let the military do its duty, adding the government could help end the conflict via diplomatic channels.
M.R. Sukhumbhand said the government needed to show Burma that it was strong and resolute and that it meant business when it said no one could violate Thai sovereignty.
The Democrats understood that the government needed to have good relationship with Burma.
``But Burma respects strength so we must be firm in our stand that we will not tolerate cross-border incursions,'' he said.
M.R. Sukhumbhand said the government could not expect personal relations with Burmese leaders would solve the problem. Mr Thaksin, he said, had boasted several times that he could settle the conflict in a few days but the situation had still not improved.
He wanted Mr Thaksin to talk less about the border and let his subordinates do their jobs.
M.R. Sukhumbhand said the key player was Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai. However, he said Mr Surakiart must learn to listen to different opinions.
He also said there was no need for Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to travel to Rangoon to negotiate with the Burmese junta himself.
Border problems would remain unresolved if Burma failed to settle conflicts with minority rebels.
``The government is fooling itself by thinking that those problems will go away if it relents,'' he said.
Democrat MP Alongkorn Pollabutr said the opposition suspected the government took a subservient stance on Burma because it wanted to protect its business interests in that country, particularly Mr Thaksin's mobile telephone and satellite services
Mr Alongkorn said his party would lodge urgent motions with the House committees on military and foreign affairs to investigate whether there were connections between business interests and the government's failure to safeguard the country.
Chaichoke Julsiriwong, a Chulalongkorn University political scientist, said he believed minority rebel groups were behind the Thai-Burmese conflict as there were reports that they had disguised themselves as Thai soldiers, raided a Burmese military camp and planted a Thai national flag there.
Mr Chaichoke said the government should wait until Burma was in a calmer mood before seeking talks.
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