Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Thailand to Help Rebuild Temples in the Irrawaddy Delta

(Irrawaddy News)-Thailand’s foreign minister said on Monday that his recently formed coalition government was ready to help Burma rebuild temples damaged by Cyclone Nargis, according to reports in the Thai press.

The Burmese government wants the international community to help renovate its temples damaged by the cyclone,” Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post. “Thailand is ready to act as the coordinating center for donations to help it.”

According to Burma’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, 1,163 temples in Irrawaddy Division and 284 temples in Rangoon Division were destroyed when Cyclone Nargis struck on May 2-3.

If Thailand’s offer is accepted, it will be the first foreign assistance that Burma has received for work on temples damaged or destroyed by the deadly cyclone, according to local relief groups operating in the Irrawaddy delta. In the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, the temples played a key role in providing shelter and coordinating emergency assistance for survivors.

Kasit earlier indicated that the new Democrat-led coalition government in Bangkok would depart from the business-oriented Burma policies of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his hand-picked successors, saying that Thailand would now run “an ethical foreign policy.”

“We shall have no [personal] business deals with the [Burmese] junta; we shall observe human rights and environmental concerns; we shall treat Burmese as we do Thais,” he said at an academic conference on December 19.

On Monday, Kasit held a meeting in Bangkok with Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu to discuss bilateral relations.

After the meeting, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters that Thailand wanted to see change in Burma.

“The goals of Western countries and the countries of this region for Burma are not different. We all want to see some changes,” Abhisit said. “But our methods may differ because of two main reasons: cultural differences and the distance of the countries.”

Abhisit did not, however, comment on what specific steps Thailand might take to push for change in Burma, where the ruling junta has imprisoned more than 2,000 pro-democracy activists.

“I don’t believe Thailand can change Burma because Asian countries have tried to change Burma for more than 20 years. But there is still no change,” said Aye Thar Aung, secretary of the opposition Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, responding to the Thai prime minister’s comments.

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