REGIONAL NEWS & SPECIAL REPORTS -
REGIONAL NEWS & SPECIAL REPORTS
Written by Administrator
Tuesday, 21 December 2010 06:12
AsiaViews, Edition: 22/I/June/2004
Burma's Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt is in Thailand this week and will meet his Thai counterpart, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Perhaps Burma's premier will use the occasion to talk about the progress of the "road map for democracy", as he is believed to have done in Malaysia.
There are no illusions in Burma regarding the road map's prospects for success. The National Convention, the first hurdle to any sort of success, is now taking place at a small village about 40km west of Rangoon. Despite widespread opposition and the exclusion of key national stakeholders, such as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese junta will not back away from this unpopular and controversial meeting.
But what does success for the Burmese regime mean for Thailand? Will it end Thailand's troubled relationship with the Burmese generals? It's unlikely.
Thailand, along with several other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), has long supported the Burmese junta in its pursuit of a constitution. These countries regularly urge the junta to finish the constitution following the suspension of the National Convention in 1996. When the Burmese junta announced the seven-point road map in August last year, Thailand was one of the very few countries that expressed support for the regime.
Despite earlier statements regarding the exclusion of Aung San Suu Kyi from the reconciliation process, Thailand will give its tacit, if not open, backing to the junta. At least, as a truly diplomatic nation, Thailand will refrain from criticising the junta, especially for its continued detention and exclusion of Aung San Suu Kyi from the road map process.
In turn, Burma's prime minister will praise Thaksin for his unwavering support for the junta and his role as the peace facilitator between the Karen National Union and the junta.
Khin Nyunt will ask for continued Thai support for the regime with regards to the roadmap, the upcoming Asean summit in Indonesia in July and the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) to be held in October in Vietnam.
Over the past decade, Thailand has had a number of problems with Burma. First, there are the border disputes, which often flare up due to incursions by Burmese troops into Thailand in their pursuit of ethnic rebels. Second, the problem of the more than 100,000 Burmese refugees languishing in several refugee camps in Thailand remains unresolved. This is not to mention the continued presence of anti-Rangoon groups on Thai soil. Third and most crucially, there is the persistent drug smuggling into Thailand by Burma's Wa and other ethnic groups, the very problem which led to the Thaksin administration's war on drugs that killed more than 2,500 suspected drug dealers last year, damaging Thailand's reputation internationally.
But the relationship between the two nations has improved since premier Thaksin ascended to power three years ago. The success of Burma's road map process and the prospects for Thaksin's continuing dominance in Thai politics will likely lead to further improvements in the relationship. However, these things are not likely to solve all the outstanding issues that exist between the two countries. Here are the reasons why.
First, according to the constitution currently being debated in Burma, the men in uniform will remain in power. They have been in power for more than 40 years and Thailand should remember the ordeals it has had to go through dealing with the generals in Rangoon.
Essentially, Rangoon does not trust the Thais and the Thais do not trust Rangoon. The Burmese generals have on occasion resorted to toughness when negotiating with Thais on any given issue. For now, the Burmese junta has softened its stance against Thailand. It will continue to lure the Thais with lucrative business deals. But once the junta gets what it wants following the completion of the road map, it will revert to character - that of the tough neighbour.
Second, the Karen will not rush to sign a cease-fire agreement with the junta unless the Burmese junta provides a concrete promise of safety for the refugees. This stands in the way of Thailand's hopes of repatriating refugees back to Burma. Even if the Karen signed a truce with the regime before the end of this year, the repatriation of the refugees would not be an easy process.
In a related issue, the Burmese opposition groups that have enjoyed the safety of operating in Thailand have nowhere else to go and must remain in Thailand. This will undoubtedly continue to be a thorn in the side of Thailand's relationship with Burma.
Third, several ethnic groups such as the Wa, which are responsible for the influx of illicit drugs into Thailand, will continue to enjoy the freedom, and even the blessing, to remain in the drug business in return for providing legitimacy to the regime for its road map. As a result, drug inflows from Burma into Thailand are unlikely to stop.
Finally, as the Burmese junta has effectively left out all major political and ethnic stakeholders from the road map process, the conflict in Burma will not end. The junta will face huge resistance while implementing the final form of its road map.
Politically strong ethnic groups such as the Karen and the Mon will continue to demand greater autonomy from Rangoon. In these resilient struggles, Thailand will feel the spill-over effects that it has experienced for the more than 40 years since General Ne Win seized power from the democratically elected government of U Nu in 1962.
It is understandable that Thailand wants to enjoy a better relationship with its unpredictable neighbour. But Thailand should also bear in mind what power the Burmese generals could unleash in their determination to remain in power.
By: Aung Naing Oo, a research associate with the Was
The Nation 4 June 2004
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 December 2010 06:12 )