Daily News- June 03- 2002- Monday

  • Thai PM seeks top-level meeting
  • Thai PM slammed for being too soft on Myanmar
  • Shan rebels wore Thai uniforms, army claims
  • Closure halts flow of drugs from Burma
  • 700 Ethnic Karen Flee Myanmar Troops

  • Thai PM seeks top-level meeting

    Supalak Ganjanakhundee

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will dispatch an envoy to Rangoon this week to set up a meeting between himself and his Burmese counterpart General Than Shwe in a bid to ease the simmering tensions between the two countries, sources said yesterday.

    Thaksin last week sent a message to Rangoon asking for "serious discussions" between himself and General Than Shwe. He said that the envoy would lay out proposals for the meeting with the general. A date for the meeting would be set in the next few days

    Normal channels of communication between Bangkok and Rangoon have shut down as Burma wanted to impress on Thai leaders what they regard as the seriousness of the current situation, an official at Government House said.

    The Burmese ambassador to Thailand, Myo Myint, left Thailand for Rangoon on Friday to brief leaders in under mounting speculation that the junta planed to downgrade its diplomatic ties with Thailand.

    "Burmese leaders are angry about the situation. They had thought they would have a better relationship with Thailand under the present administration", the Government House official said.

    Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said last week that he planed to visit Rangoon to patch up problems with the junta, but no date for the visit has been arranged. Thai ambassador to Burma Oum Maolanon said Thai representatives in Rangoon, including the embassy's military attache, had received no response from the authorities on requests for a meeting during Chavalit's visit. Oum said that while Burmese leaders remained silent, the local state-run media was pumping out anti-Thai sentiment.

    News reports about a visa ban for Thai officials wanting to visit Burma and cut-backs in the number of Burmese visiting Thailand cannot be confirmed by Burmese authorities because of this wall of silence, he said. "They [Burmese leaders] do this whenever they are angry," Oum said. "But I hope the tense situation won't last too much longer."

    The Thai business community in Burma is worried because the tension between the two countries is causing major losses in cross-border trade. Tensions between the two countries flared two weeks ago when the Thai military deployed thousands of troops along its northern border with Burma.

    Thailand said the deployment was part of its "Surasri 143" military exercises, but the media reported that the move was a prelude to an attack on the forces of the notorious drug baron Wei Hsueh-kang, who commands a faction of the Wa army.

    Authorities in Rangoon ordered the border closed in retaliation for the deployment. The Thai government ordered the withdrawal of troops, but this did little to ease the simmering relations between the two countries. Burma has accused Thailand of supporting anti-Rangoon ethnic minority rebels, notably the Shan State Army and Karen National Union, both of which operate along the border.

    Thai PM slammed for being too soft on Myanmar

    BANGKOK, June 2 (AFP) - Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was roundly criticised in Sunday reports for being too soft on Myanmar's military junta over an escalating border row which is souring relations.

    Opposition Democrats warned that Thailand's stance over the border fracas, particularly its withdrawal of forces from the frontier, made it appear too meek in the face of a verbal assault by Yangon, the Bangkok Post reported.

    "Relenting gives Burma an impression that Thailand is weak," Democrat MP Sukhumbhand Paribatra told the daily, referring to Myanmar by its former name.He also said the opposition had quietly warned the Thaksin administration several times that it was being too soft on Myanmar, and that it was important to show Yangon that Bangkok was resolute in defending its border while pursuing good relations."But Burma respects strength so we must be firm in our stand that we will not tolerate cross-border incursions," the MP added.

    Border tensions have escalated in the past fortnight as army troops and ethnic minority rebel insurgents have engaged in clashes that led to an exchange of protest notes on May 20, with Yangon accusing the Thai army of firing artillery into its territory.Myanmar immediately closed its four main border checkpoints and said it would not issue visas for official delegations.

    Yangon on Saturday expelled 500 Thai workers, mainly from a border casino and a coal mine, both of which were joint ventures with Thai firms, the newspaper said, although a Thai government spokesman said Sunday the administration could not confirm this.The spokesman, Yongyuth Tiyapairat, told AFP: "Whatever happens now, the Thai government still firmly intends to resolve the misunderstanding."

    MP Alongkorn Pollabutr said Democrats suspected Thaksin's apparent subservient stance on Yangon was because he was trying to protect business interests in Myanmar, particularly communications investments by Thai companies owned by the Thaksin family, the paper said.An opinion piece in the Nation newspaper also took Thai leaders to task for their stance on the junta.

    "Thaksin and Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh try their best to be Mr Nice Guy towards Rangoon," wrote Sopon Onkgara, referring to the capital by its former name."This has made the country's foreign policy look pretty murky."Yangon last week barred the closely monitored press from publishing Thailand-related articles or advertisements.

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    Shan rebels wore Thai uniforms, army claims

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    The Shan State Army might have deliberately stirred up the trouble along the border by dressing its fighters in Thai uniforms for attacks on Burmese and Wa military bases, according to an army source.

    The SSA had asked its contacts in Muang district of Chiang Rai province to buy about 50 Thai military uniforms, the source said.

    ``The SSA was concerned that Thai-Burmese relations had improved, especially ties between Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and Burmese military leaders.``It created a situation to prevent Thailand and Burma from working together to stamp out drugs,'' the source said.

    A Supreme Command panel says it found no evidence that Thai soldiers intruded into Burmese territory to attack Burmese or Wa military bases.The panel examined last month's Surasee 143 military exercise and confirmed the defence drill was confined to Thai soil.The exercise took place at least 80-90 kilometres inside the border in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son and Tak provinces. The committee will report its findings to Gen Chavalit this week.

    A source at the Supreme Command denied Burma's claims that Thai soldiers supported the SSA's attacks on Burmese and United Wa State Army troops and fired artillery in support of the SSA.Thai soldiers retaliated with mortar fire and rocket-propelled grenades after Burma fired mortars into Thailand, the source said.

    ``About 30,000 soldiers took part in Surasee 143 but no one fired artillery because they were focused on transporting troops and equipment,'' the source said.The panel said Burmese claims that SSA and Karen National Union bases were located in Thailand were also groundless. The bases were very close to Thailand, but not on Thai soil, the source said.

    Meanwhile, Gen Chavalit is said to be unhappy that Burma has knocked back his suggestion that top brass get together for talks.Burmese army chief Gen Maung Aye and Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, the first secretary of Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council, rejected his proposal last weekend to meet near the Chiang Rai-Tachilek area to discuss border issues.

    However, Gen Vichit Yathip, an army expert, is still in touch with the Burmese.The Foreign Ministry has been setting up Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's planned visit to Rangoon. Gen Maung Aye issued the invitation during his visit to Bangkok on April 23-26.At the border, Burmese soldiers are referring to Thai troops as ``Yodaya'' in radio messages. Thai soldiers are upset about their use of the term, a reference to battles Thailand lost to invading Burmese during the Ayutthaya era.

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    Closure halts flow of drugs from Burma

    The Bangkokpost

    The trafficking of drugs through northern checkpoints and jungle passes has slowed to a trickle since Burma closed the length of its common border last month, according to the anti-narcotics agency.

    Without citing figures, Thirapat Santimetaneedol, deputy secretary at the Narcotics Control Board, said the inflow of methamphetamine into the North had been reduced significantly.However, he warned traffickers would likely change their tactics and attempt to smuggle in their shipments by splitting them into small consignments.

    ``There are an estimated 120 drug-smuggling routes along the Burmese border, and half of them are located in the North,'' Mr Thirapat said. ``Traffickers will use so-called ant armies to bring in their drugs because they cannot carry big shipments across the border.''Routes through Laos and the Andaman Sea would also be used, he said.

    Meanwhile, city hall set up a joint task force to fight drug abuse in Klong Toey district.Kriangsak Lohachala, city clerk, said addicts would benefit from more rehabilitation programmes and assistance from their communities, while police would spearhead a campaign against pushers in their areas of jurisdiction.

    700 Ethnic Karen Flee Myanmar Troops

    MAE SOT, Thailand (AP) - Myanmar soldiers have killed at least five people and set fire to ethnic Karen villages in new raids on separatist rebels along the border with Thailand, refugees said Sunday.

    Thai officials said more than 700 Karen have fled to Thailand from 22 villages in the Kyar Inn Seik Kyee township of Myanmar, about 25 miles from the border. Hundreds more are believed to be making their way through the jungle to Thai territory.The refugees began arriving in small groups Friday in Thailand's Umphang district, about 120 miles northwest of Bangkok, the border officials said on condition of anonymity.

    One villager, 63-year-old Naw Mu Nuei, told The Associated Press that Myanmar troops accused the villagers of backing the rebel Karen National Union, or KNU, and ordered them to leave the area before May 21.When the villagers defied the order, Myanmar troops detained them at a local church for four days, beating some of them before driving the group into the jungle and setting fire to their houses, they said.

    Another villager, Saw Po Naw, 33, said Myanmar soldiers shot and killed five of his relatives as they fled through the jungle.

    Myanmar soldiers often raid Karen villages, accusing residents of giving sanctuary to the KNU, which has been fighting for greater autonomy since Myanmar, also known as Burma, achieved independence from Britain in 1948.Some 120,000 people displaced by the conflict live in camps along the border, most of them Karen.Relations between Myanmar and Thailand have deteriorated sharply since May 20, when their troops exchanged cross-border gunfire.

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