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No worries over Thein Sein no-show

Originally appeared in Bangkok Post

May 29, 2012

Govt says bilateral ties unaffected, while Thailand’s Myanmar community waits to embrace Suu Kyi

President Thein Sein’s no-show at the World Economic Forum in Bangkok this week is unlikely to undermine the friendly relations forged between his government and the Yingluck Shinawatra administration.

The soft-spoken president has visited fewer than a dozen nations since he was elected as Myanmar’s leader on March 30 last year.

The first country Thein Sein visited was Indonesia to attend the Asean Summit in early May last year, followed by his first state visit to China later in the same month.

His overseas trips have also included Japan, India, Singapore, Vietnam and Laos.

He wrote to the organisers of the World Economic Forum and the Thai government to say he would not attend the conference this week.

Thein Sein said he has “urgent matters” to attend to inside the country and cannot attend the WEF meeting. However, he said he would pay an official visit to Thailand on June 4-5.

Some observers said Thein Sein cancelled his trip to Bangkok because Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to be in the public spotlight during the conference.

The WEF has invited her to attend the Asia Chapter of its global economic gatherings.

Yet many observers believe that as the two have worked closely together, especially in areas of ethnic reconciliation, Thein Sein’s no-show in Bangkok is unlikely to harm their relationship.

Nor will it harm Myanmar’s relationship with Bangkok, as the countries are still close.

The Myanmar government will be represented at the gathering instead by the Union Minister of Energy U Than Htay.

As for Mrs Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), her schedule during her Thai visit is uncertain.

Her aide has been in Bangkok for the past few days to discuss her programme with Thai and Myanmar civil society organisations, particularly those dealing with migrant workers and refugee rights.

Mrs Suu Kyi, who arrives in Bangkok today, will tomorrow visit Samut Sakhon’s Mahachai district, which is home to hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Myanmar.

The workers send large portions of their pay back home.

The Nobel laureate is also expected to visit a refugee camp in Tha Song Yang district in Tak province, opposite Myawaddy of Myanmar.

She will drop in on the Mae Tao clinic, and meet a group of exiled activists based in the province. That visit has been tentatively arranged for Saturday.

Mrs Suu Kyi’s talks with exiled dissidents who have worked closely with democracy forces inside Myanmar will serve as an important signal about whether reconciliation efforts have the support of the exiled population.

Many exiled activists based in Thailand have been discouraged by Mrs Suu Kyi’s collaboration with the Thein Sein government as they consider the ruling regime to be nothing more than a proxy for the military.

The dissidents in exile have documented cases to expedite the United Nations’ inquiry on ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar military.

However, their campaign lost some of its momentum when the NLD and Mrs Suu Kyi turned to parliament to fight for their cause.

Soe Aung, of the Mae Sot-based Forum for Democracy in Burma, said he was happy to see Mrs Suu Kyi visit Thailand and was looking forward to meeting her.

Khin Ohmar, of the Burma Partnership, said activists working on human rights, humanitarian and democracy issues were excited about the prospect of meeting the opposition leader.

“We might not have a chance to return home yet. But now our leader is coming, so we are looking forward to the meeting. Some of us have worked on the border for decades. We hope she will have a chance to meet us,” said Khin Ohmar, from Mae Sot.

Meanwhile, a human rights group on Thursday will release a report which it says shows the Myanmar government’s use of torture and ill-treatment against its own people since the November 2010 elections.

The report, by the Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma, documents 83 cases of alleged maltreatment which it says have taken place in detention centres where political prisoners are interrogated and held, and in ethnic areas where the Myanmar army is engaged in armed conflict.

View the original article here.

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