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Samak fosters closer ties with junta


March 17, 2008

Samak fosters closer ties with junta

Thailand’s Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, on his first, one-day official visit to Myanmar on Friday, has clinched an investment deal with the junta, which will reportedly protect Thai investors, and in return, Thailand will try to boost the economy and help the military regime, local media said.

Samak and his Myanmar counterpart Gen Thein Sein witnessed the signing of the investment protection pact, which had allegedly been kept secret until Samak arrived back in Thailand. Most details on the agreement remain confidential.

Thailand is already one of Myanmar's largest investors and trading partners, with Thai state-owned energy firms being the largest buyers of natural gas from that country.

The two sides discussed Myanmar's plan to build a deep sea port in Tavoy in the country's southeast, for which the junta asked assistance from Thailand, Thai News Agency quoted Prime Minister Samak as saying.

The junta also raised the issue of the 7,110-megawatt Tasang dam, which Thailand won a concession to build 10 years ago but there has been little progress since then.

The Tasang dam is the largest of the proposed hydroelectric projects on the Salween River in Burma's Shan State, about 130 kilometres from the Thai-Burmese border.

The 228-metre-high dam is slated to be the tallest dam in all of Southeast Asia. The reservoir will flood hundreds of square kilometres of land, according to Salween Watch, a coalition of NGOs based in Chiang Mai which monitors the issue.

Thai firm MDX signed an agreement with the Burmese junta in 2002 to develop the project. However, the planned dam has met with stiff opposition from environmentalists and other activists because it could force several thousand people to leave their homes and land and move elsewhere.

A related report from local media said Thailand’s Export-Import Bank of Thailand will resume offering remaining funds from a four-billion-baht soft loan to the junta which had been suspended due to alleged irregularities. It remains unclear how much of the four-billion-baht loan has yet to be handed to the ruling junta in Burma.

The bank said in a statement released last September that all but 341 million baht of the loan had already been handed over. The loan was signed between the Export-Import Bank of Thailand and the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank in June 2004, when then premier Thaksin Shinawatra was in power.

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