Thai PM to skirt political issues on Myanmar visit
* Sundaravej to preside over opening of new Thai embassy in Yangon
BANGKOK: Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej will not discuss politics when he visits Myanmar on Friday, but will congratulate the regime on the announcement of its election timetable, Thai officials said.
“The purpose of the visit is purely to introduce himself,” government spokesman Wichianchot Sukchotrat told reporters. “The Thai government will not raise the issue of Myanmar’s political development because it’s a sensitive issue and Myanmar’s government is never willing to talk,” he said. But another senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thailand would congratulate Myanmar on its plan to hold a constitutional referendum in May, which the ruling junta says will clear the way for multiparty elections in 2010. If held, the elections would be the first since 1990, when democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party scored a landslide victory - a win the junta never recognised. Samak is also apparently carrying a message to the generals from the United States, which has sharply criticised the regime’s plan to block Aung San Suu Kyi from running in future elections.
The prime minister met late last month with the US pointman for East Asian affairs, Christopher Hill, who asked him to deliver an undisclosed message from Washington for the regime. Samak is scheduled to leave early Friday to fly to Myanmar’s remote new capital of Naypyidaw, where he will pay a courtesy call on junta chief Than Shwe and hold talks with his counterpart Thien Sein.
Embassy opening: Samak will leave Naypyidaw for the nation’s commercial hub Yangon to preside over the opening of a new Thai embassy, before visiting the famed Shwedagon pagoda and returning to Bangkok, the Thai official said. Thailand does plan to discuss the flight of political dissidents into the kingdom as well as the hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrants living here, the official added.
Thailand is one of the biggest investors and trading partners in Myanmar, spending billions of dollars a year to tap into the country’s natural gas and hydropower resources to power its own growing economy. Samak is scheduled to discuss two major energy projects between Myanmar and Thailand during the visit, spokesman Wichianchot said. afp