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Analysts Express Concern Over Thai-Burma Agreements - 2002-08-09

Thailand's government says border tensions with Burma have been resolved after Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai visited Rangoon this week. But analysts remain concerned the agreement may be short-lived and say few details have been released to the Thai public. Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai says the two countries will be working together on such areas as drug smuggling, illegal immigrants and economic development.

Relations between Burma and Thailand have been tense for more than two months. The dispute started with a Thai military crackdown on illegal drugs smuggled into Thailand from Burma.

Bangkok blames the United Wa State Army, an ethnic minority force in Burma, for the flood of illegal drugs into Thailand. The Wa are linked to the Burmese government. Rangoon, however, accuses Bangkok of backing ethnic Shan rebels, who have long fought the Burmese army along the border.

To ease the tensions, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra shifted a top Thai general to a lesser post.

Thai political analysts and some opposition politicians worry that warmer relations may have a cost to Thailand.

Aung Zaw is the editor of the Burmese opposition newspaper, Irrawaddy. He says there are fears that the Thai army will take a tougher stance with the 100,000 refugees from Burma. Aung Zaw fears Thailand has paid a high price to end to the tensions.

"I think Thailand has been sold out to Burma because whenever there are conflicts between the two countries Thailand always has to go and bow, has to give in, has to go to Burma to strike a deal," he said.

He says there also are fears that a special anti-drug task force Thailand, set up with support from United States, may be downgraded.

Somchai Homlaor is the spokesman for human rights group Forum Asia which is critical of Prime Minister Thaksin's dealings with Burma's military government - known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

"We think the government of Thailand should be more transparent in dealing with the SPDC leaders and we need the participation of the people of Thailand in that decision-making," he said.

Forum Asia, along with other rights groups, is calling on the Thai government to release more details about its agreement with Burma.