Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thailand and Myanmar to forge ahead with bilateral cooperation

The Nation
Nay Pyi Taw November 23, 2013 1:00 am

The Thai-Myanmar joint commission on bilateral cooperation yesterday went ahead with plans to forge closer links between the two countries in areas of border development, capacity building and infrastructure - the first of such meetings in more than a decade.
Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul and his Myanmar counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin co-chaired the meeting in Nay Pyi Taw.

In addition to political issues and security, the meeting covered a wide range of issues, including capacity building, economic cooperation and social and cultural development, Surapong said.

"We discussed the importance of border development - improving the living standards of people either side - and enhancing bilateral economic development," he told reporters.

Thailand also threw its support behind Myanmar's Asean chairmanship next year and its role as host of the 2013 SEA Games, which kicks off in Nay Pyi Taw next month. After the meeting, Surapong presented a several sports equipment to his counterpart.

The issue of capacity building will focus on training officials in different fields, including public health and welfare - especially in areas along the Thai-Myanmar border. They will also be trained on ways of improving the welfare of refugees who fled fighting in Myanmar and have lived for decades along the Thai border, Surapong said.

Some 100,000 refugees have been sheltered in camps along the border since the late 1980s. Thailand is currently negotiating their repatriation now that the conflict between armed ethnic groups and the Myanmar government has ended. "We have to help them prepare for a safe return and resettlement now that peace and stability has returned to Myanmar," Surapong said.

The meeting also marked 65 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Owing to problems under Myanmar's former military regime, the last joint commission meeting was held 11 years ago. However, with reforms in place and a civilian government in power, both countries hope to forge stronger links, especially in areas of transportation and infrastructure, Damrong Kraikruan, director of the Foreign Ministry's East Asia Department, said.

Over the next three to five years, both countries plan to complete at least two road links - one between Mae Sot in the North to Kawkareik and Mawlamyine in Myanmar and another from Kanchanaburi's Three Pagoda pass to Thanbyuzaya and Mawlamyine, Damrong said.

These roads are expected to substantially boost trade and tourism between the two countries. The existing road linking Myanmar via Mae Sot is already used to transport 65 per cent of goods between the two nations, Damrong said.

A feasibility study of the new transport link is being conducted by Thailand's Neighbouring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency. The routes are also expected to connect Thailand with Myanmar's Dawei Special Economic Zone. Surapong said the commission also discussed bringing a third party like Japan into the Dawei project. Thailand has already invested in it.

The two countries also plan to upgrade their border checkpoints and open more permanent checkpoints at Kew Pha Wok-Chiang Mai, Huay Ton Noon-Mae Hong Son and Singkorn-Prachuap Khiri Khan borders.

Singkorn would most likely be the first permanent checkpoint, Surapong said.

"The checkpoint on the Myanmar side is ready and we are making preparations on our side. I think it will open very soon," he said.