Daily News- June 09- 2002- Sunday

  • Thai PM says Safety top concern at Burma border
  • Thai `Buffer state' policy against Burma to end
  • Burmese troops retake outpost from SSA
  • East Timor invited, but Burma in cold for Asian-European forum

  • Thai PM says Safety top concern at Burma border

    Source : The Nation

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday said provincial authorities must closely monitor border skirmishes between Burmese troops and Shan guerrillas in order to ensure safety in Wiang Haeng and Chiang Dao districts.

    Thaksin attended a briefing on the border situation in this northern province following the launch of Burmese military operations to dislodge Shan State Army (SSA) bases located opposite the two districts.

    "The government considers the safety of villagers living along the border a top most priority and hopes that peace and normalcy will soon be restored in the border areas," he said.

    He expressed disappointment that the Burmese junta and the Shan guerrillas refused to settle their disputes through peaceful means.

    Following the briefing, the prime minister expressed surprise that a group of unidentified armed troops from Burma had on Friday intruded as far as Samoeng district in search of food.

    "We should not permit such a gross violation of our territorial integrity," he said.

    Skirmishes continued across the border for a second day yesterday as the sound of gunfire could be heard in Wiang Haeng district every 15 minutes.

    District chief Adisuan Nanthachaiphan said many artillery and mortar shells had strayed into Thai territory causing minor damage to 11 houses.

    No casualties were reported as most villagers living near the conflict zone had been evacuated earlier.

    Adisuan said some 1,600 displaced Burmese had crossed the border to seek safety and they would go back after the fighting ended.

    Meanwhile, an activist yesterday suggested that the government should not downplay the tensions between Thailand and Burma, and that it should ask other Asean members to step in for mediation.

    Somchai Homlaor of the Asian Forum said Thailand often tried to minimise the seriousness of the conflict and compared it to one between "teeth and tongue".

    "I don't know who deserves to be teeth or tongue but Thailand appears hurt every time," Somchai said.

    The government made a mistake by putting its faith in personal diplomacy, he said.

    Despite efforts for closer personal contact between Thai and Burmese leaders border conflicts have broken out twice in less than two years, he added.

    The Foreign Ministry should lobby Asean countries to help resolve the bilateral conflict, he said.

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    Thai `Buffer state' policy against Burma to end

    Source : BangkokPost

    Thailand will give up its ``buffer state'' policy against Burma. All outside concerns helping minority groups there should stop interfering, Thaksin Shinawatra said.

    The prime minister was asked whether the government and army thought about Burma along the same lines.

    If Bangkok wanted to undermine Rangoon, a buffer state policy would encourage it to back a rebel group fighting the military junta, such as the Shan State Army.

    Burma has accused the Thai military of helping anti-Rangoon minority groups, in particular the Shan State Army.

    The Thai army in turn says Rangoon turns a blind eye to the United Wa State Army, the largest drug producer in the Golden Triangle, which sells methamphetamines in Thailand.

    Mr Thaksin denied the government and the armed forces pursued different policies towards Burma.

    The government has been at pains to keep relations cordial, with Mr Thaksin famously telling troops last week not to ``over-react'' to cross-border shelling.

    ``The government and the armed forces have to move in the same direction,'' Mr Thaksin said.

    ``Before we didn't stress this but it will be made clear now _ we must give up the buffer state policy.

    ``The government and the armed forces are thinking along the same lines.''

    Mr Thaksin said NGOs and United Nations outfits helping minority groups in Burma could be scaled back once the countries were on better terms.

    ``These organisations should not interfere because they will cause problems for reconciliation attempts.

    ``Burma should be left to work out its own problems,'' Mr Thaksin said.

    Meanwhile, speakers at a panel discussion yesterday said Burma was picking a fight with Thailand to divert the attention from economic and domestic problems.

    They said Mr Thaksin should look beyond his family's telecommunication interests in Burma, and criticised him for warning the Thai army not to over-react to the border conflict.

    Somchai Homla-or, Forum Asia secretary-general, told the forum that only talks between Burma and minority groups could solve Rangoon's internal problems, and the drug and illegal immigration problems spilling across the border.

    Kiatchai Pongpanich, foreign editor of Khao Sod daily, said the military junta was using conflict with Thailand to divert attention from economic and political problems for which they had found no solutions.

    Mr Kiatchai said Thai efforts to suppress the Wei Hseuh-kang drug gang in Burma had caused Burmese military backers heavy losses.

    The pair criticised Mr Thaksin for his over-reaction comment, saying it was improper to tick off soldiers trying to defend Thai sovereignty.

    The Association of South-East Asian Nations should be asked to help Burma resolve its conflicts with minority groups, the forum was told.

    Meanwhile, Maj-Gen Manoonkrit Rupkachorn, the senate speaker, said diplomacy alone would not do the job.

    He advocated ``an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth'' policy to safeguard the Thai military's honour.

    Maj-Gen Manoonkrit said the government had to pursue and juggle many goals with respect to Burma _ diplomacy, national defence and protection of Thai property _ in handling its relations with Rangoon.

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    Burmese troops retake outpost from SSA

    Source : BangkokPost

    Burmese troops have retaken a military outpost overrun by Shan State Army rebels last month, a border source said yesterday.

    After a three-day effort they had recaptured a small base opposite Ban Pak Sam. SSA rebels could not withstand the offensive and withdrew from the outpost opposite Chiang Mai's Wiang Haeng district, said the source.

    SSA leader Col Yod Suek said the rebels were in high spirits despite the offensive.

    The source said mortar shells landed on Thai soil near Lak Taeng border pass yesterday, injuring a Thai soldier.

    Fighting had stopped in the area opposite Chiang Rai's Mae Fa Luang district. However, Burmese troops were expected to renew their attacks on the Shan bases within a few days.

    On Friday night, shells landed on Thai soil, damaging 11 houses. There were no reports of injuries.

    In contrast to the past, Thai soldiers did not fire warning shots or retaliate with live rounds when stray shells fell.

    Security forces have been told by the prime minister to keep watch for strangers after the arrest of a suspected Burmese spy here.

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he had told all military and police units along the border to keep an eye out for strangers and arrest any suspicious-looking ones.

    A suspected Burmese spy identified as Tuelae, 18, was arrested in Samoeng district on his way from Tak's Mae Sot to Chiang Mai's Mae Chaem district.

    Yesterday, Regional Police Bureau 5 was told that 15-18 men in pick-up trucks were seen looking for food near Samoeng district town.

    Police believe the men, who were heading for Mae Chaem district, might be guards for a drug caravan.

    In Wiang Haeng district, district chief Adisuan Nantarachaiyanan said 11 houses in Lak Taeng border village were hit by stray bullets from fighting in Burma.

    People had been evacuated previously.

    Many Burmese and Red Wa troops were killed on the third day of attacks on the anti-Rangoon Shan State Army's two strongholds opposite Wiang Haeng.

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    East Timor invited, but Burma in cold for Asian-European forum

    Source : BangkokPost

    Thailand expressed concern over Spain's welcome for newly independent East Timor while keeping Burma at arm's length from an Asian-European forum.

    Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai was commenting on the Spanish invitation to Ramos Horta, East Timor's foreign minister, to attend an informal dinner on Thursday with 25 Asian and European counterparts gathered here.

    But on Friday, a statement released in the name of the Spanish chairman said the ministers would recommend that the leaders take up in 2004, rather than at the upcoming summit in September, the issue of whether Burma, Cambodia and Laos could join the Asia-Europe Meeting.

    Asian members had emphasised that East Timor should be invited to dinner as guest of the Spanish host, not as part of the Asem process, Mr Surakiart said.

    ``We are concerned about the signals this might send,'' he added. While European members had not accepted Burma, Cambodia and Laos even though they had long shown interest in being part of Asem, ``a new country in Southeast Asia which we have helped rehabilitate in terms of democracy has been invited.''

    Asem groups seven member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations _ Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam _ with China, Japan and South Korea, and the 15-strong European Union.

    Asean last year actively advocated the admission of the three remaining members into Asem, which was launched in Bangkok in 1996. Vietnam is hosting the Asem summit in 2004, while Denmark, reputed to be less conciliatory to Burma, is preparing to host the leaders' meeting from Sept 22-24 in Copenhagen.

    Mr Surakiart claimed all the Asian members of Asem felt that the Spanish host should have also invited Laos, Cambodia and Burma here as his guests. If Europeans were ``still in the process of adjusting their Burma policy,'' the invitation could have been extended to only Cambodia and Laos with whom they had no problems, he added.

    ``It is something we are not very comfortable or happy with,'' the minister added, referring to the preferential treatment for East Timor.

    Mr Surakiart, however, said mention of the enlargement issue in the chairman's statement represented progress. Moreover, though the time frame amounted to a delay, other conditions seemed to have weakened. ``Before we faced conditions as well as a time factor. Now we face only the time factor,'' he added.

    Burma came up in Mr Surakiart's bilateral meetings with Italian secretary of state for foreign affairs Margherita Boniver, and Austria's federal minister for foreign affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner. He also met separately with South Korean Foreign Minister Choi Sung-Hong.

    Politics was high on the agenda of the fourth Asem foreign ministers' meeting here. But Mr Surakiart joined many in expressing dismay at the small turnout of fully-fledged ministers, including only three from the European side _ Denmark, Spain and Portugal _ and five from the Asian side, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam.

    Though every country had limitations both Asians and European should show the importance they lend to a pre-planned visit like this one by ``redoubling efforts'' to send full ministers.

    For the first time, the Asem ministers issued separate statements on the world's most contentious conflicts, between nuclear-powered India and Pakistan, and in the Middle East. The chairman's statement noted ministers' welcome for the June 10 coming-together in Kabul, Afghanistan, of the Emergency Loya Jirga. They also recognised the importance of East Timor's independence.

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