Friday, January 16, 2009

Burma Situation Affects Region: Thai PM

The Irrawaddy News

Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Wednesday that because the situation in Burma could affect other countries in the region, it is time for change.

Abhisit spoke to journalists at a dinner at the Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand in Bangkok.

Thailand shares more than 1,800 km with military-ruled Burma. Non-government organizations that work with Burmese migrant workers estimate there are 4 million Burmese, legal and illegal, currently living in Thailand.

Abhisit said that the regional bloc, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), should be more proactive on Burma issues, although the situation is difficult.

The Thai government will use a “flexible engagement” policy in relation to Burma under the Democrat administration, he said. The “flexible engagement” policy was outlined by Surin Pitsuwan, the former Thai foreign minister and current secretary-general of Asean in 1999. He proposed the regional bloc use a “constructive engagement” policy.

“Flexible engagement” was about open and frank discussion on issues such as human rights, leading to cooperative solutions—a pooling of sovereignty rather than its dilution, so as to make Southeast Asia a secure and prosperous region, according to analysts.

Abhisit said the sanction policy of Western nations on Burma was counterproductive.

Commenting on Abhisit’s Burma policy, Kavi Chongkittavorn, an assistant group editor of Thailand’s The Nation, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that whether using “constructive engagement” or “flexible engagement,” Asean has to continue pressure on Burma.

He said the current Democrat administration can do a lot on Burma policy, and Abhisit’s approach will be different from the previous government of Thai Primer Thaksin Shinawatra.

“This government will be more transparent in its Burma policy,” he said.

Analysts say the Thaksin administration Burma policy was based on business interests and the government provided a 4 billion baht loan to Burma’s telecommunication sector—some of which was used to buy satellite services from a company owned by Thaksin.

Meanwhile, in a separate event, Abhisit told members of the diplomatic corps at Government House on Wednesday that Thailand will continue to play a constructive role in the sub-regional, regional and international community.

“We also continue to honor our international obligations and commitments at all levels and across all sectors,” he said. “Strengthening relations with neighboring countries remains at the heart of our foreign policy.”

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya held a meeting with Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu in Bangkok on Monday to discuss bilateral relations.

After the meeting, Abhisit told reporters the goals of Western countries and the countries of this region are on common ground on Burma issues.

“But our methods may differ because of two main reasons: cultural differences and the distance of the countries,” he said, indicating that neighboring countries have a more delicate situation when there are policy differences.

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