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Thailand's New Prime Minister Says UN Should Increase Contacts With Burma

Thailand's new prime minister, Samak Sundarawej, says the United Nations should step up contacts with Burma's military leaders. The Thai leader said the U.N. Secretary-General should visit Rangoon and use Thailand as a base for possible negotiations on political reform. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Bangkok.

Thailand is Burma's neighbor and closest trading partner. Unlike the United States and other nations, it refrained from imposing sanctions on the country after the Burmese generals' bloody crackdown on monks and other pro-democracy demonstrators last year.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who was sworn in on Wednesday, held his first news conference with foreign journalists on Friday and said Thailand would continue its policy of not imposing sanctions.

He said, instead, his government will encourage negotiation for democratic change in Burma, and he said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should visit the country soon. The Thai leader invited Mr. Ban to use Thailand as a base for negotiations with the Burmese leaders.

"He should visit Thailand again. When he came here, I had no opportunity, no reputation to talk to him," he said. "Now, if I have the occasion, I should ask to him, 'Mr. Ban Ki-moon, it's only a 35 minute flight from Bangkok to Rangoon, very easy or … you can go by land, and then have a good time talking."

Burma is a major supplier of natural gas to Thailand. The Thai government has come under criticism from some in the international community for not taking a harder stance on the Burmese military leadership.

Thailand itself emerged from military-backed rule this week. The country experienced a coup in 2006 that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He has gone into exile and been banned from politics for five years, but his supporters - led by Mr. Samak - regrouped and came back to power this week after winning the most parliamentary seats in a December election.

Mr. Samak's party won largely because many people identify the party with Mr. Thaksin, who retains huge popularity among Thailand's poor. During his campaign, Mr. Samak said he would bring Mr. Thaksin back, but the new prime minister has suggested he may not do that in the near future.

At Friday's news conference, Mr. Samak said Mr. Thaksin poses no threat to his rule.

Thailand has a long history of military coups. In an apparent effort to keep the military in check, Samak Sundaravej also has assumed the post of defense minister.