Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thai-Burmese leaders reach port deal

Wednesday, 13 October 2010 19:15 Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has announced a deal has been signed for Thai firms to build a deep-sea port in Tenasserim State in Burma with transport links to Thailand, the state Thai News Agency reported yesterday.

He also said today he had been assured by counterpart Thein Sein that the border between the countries at Myawaddy-Mae Sot would reopen soon, according to a report in the English-language daily Bangkok Post.

The agreement signed on Monday included the construction of 100-mile (160-kilometre) road and rail links between Kanchanaburi in western Thailand and the port at Tavoy, amid Thai hopes it could import goods from the Middle East and Europe through a special economic zone also to be built on a 100,000-acre (40,500-hectare) plot near the port, the Thai agency reported.

The transport links, power plants and steel mills that will be part of the project were expected to cost more than US$13 billion, the largest single investment in Burma, according to the blog of Financial Times Bangkok correspondent Tim Johnston.

Vessels bound for Thailand, China, Vietnam and Laos from the West could cut an average of 10 days from their voyages and would avoid the need to pass through the historically prominent pirate lair of Malacca Strait and the voyages will be more secure by using this road and port.

From an economic and strategic perspective, the strait is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world as the main shipping channel between the Indian and Pacific oceans, linking major Asian economies such as India, China, Japan and South Korea. More than 50,000 vessels pass through it each year, carrying about 25 per cent of the world’s traded goods including oil, Chinese products and Indonesian coffee.

State-run New Light of Myanmar reported yesterday that Abhisit met State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) chairman Than Shwe yesterday and discussed mutual economic and security matters. Vice-chairman Maung Aye and former SPDC members Thura Shwe Man, Tin Aye and Lieutenant General Min Aung Hlaing, believed to be taking on a Bureau of Special Operations command position, received the visiting Thai leader, it reported.

Before the meeting, Abhisit and Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya met Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein and about 10 of his cabinet from such ministries as planning, commerce, and foreign affairs. The report said they discussed “Thai-Burmese border development and stability, promotion of trade and investment, promotion of tourism and Burmese migrant workers.”

The Nation Bangkok-based English-language daily had reported that Thai army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha had joined the Thai delegation, but Thai and Burmese papers failed mention his name in their reports yesterday.

Nyo Ohn Myint from the Thailand-based National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) (NLD-LA) said Abhisit would raise with Burmese leaders the holding of free and fair elections on November 7 and seek the release of Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit. He said the SPDC had twice turned down the Thai PM’s request to see the Nobel Peace laureate who had remained in various forms of detention for at least 15 of the past 21 years.

This visit was first planned to be made in July but it had to be postponed to early August after Burma closed the Myawaddy end of the cross-border bridge and corresponding checkpoints. The visit was again postponed until it finally materialised on Monday. Thailand reportedly gave the reason that the postponements were because of Abhisit’s tight schedule.

The Bangkok Post reported today that Burma said it had closed its side of the border because of internal security problems but it was possible it would reopen sooner than expected, deputy government spokesman Supachai Jaisamut said, quoting Abhisit as saying yesterday.

Supachai said the prime minister had omitted the exact date for when the border would open again but that Abhisit’s statement had come after returning from the visit to Burma. He had told the Thai cabinet yesterday that he had ordered the Commerce Ministry to hold talks with Burma to seek the relaxation of its ban on 50 Thai export items, the report said quoting Supachai.
Burmese authorities and Thai private sector firms were conducting a joint study of the mega-project, the Post reported.

Thailand has reportedly been losing 100 million baht (US$3.3 million) daily in trade since the closure in July in protest at Thai construction on the Moei River, which forms part of the border between the countries.

Trade value between countries in the 2009-10 financial year was more than US$3.5 billion, a 16 per cent rise over the previous year, official statistics showed. The energy sector took the lion’s share of trade. As the junta’s biggest trading partner (on the books), Thailand imports natural gas from the Gulf of Martaban to meet about 30 per cent of its natural gas needs, which the Thais use mostly for electricity generation.

Thailand has been buying gas from Yadana and Yetagun blocks in the gulf since 1998 and Thai officials recently signed an agreement in Naypyidaw to aid access to gas in the Zawtika natural gas block, a part of the M9 and M11 blocks in the gulf, for 30 years.

The countries also discussed the issuance of temporary passports to Burmese migrant workers for them to work legally in Thailand.

More than 1.07 million migrant workers registered with Thai labour authorities in 2009-10 but only 850,000 migrant workers submitted their applications for temporary passports and only 140,000 temporary passports had been issued, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a refugee advocate, announced recently.

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