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Reports: Burma Expels Hundreds of Thai Workers - 2002-06-02

News reports say Burma has expelled hundreds of Thai workers, worsening rising tensions with Thailand over border incursions. This comes as tens of thousands of Burmese staged protests denouncing Thailand for allegedly harboring and aiding Burmese rebels.

Burma has reportedly ordered some 500 Thai workers to leave the country immediately. Some of those ordered to leave worked at a coal mine near the border. Burmese officials however denied the reports, telling the Reuters news agency no on had been asked to leave the country.

In another sign of deteriorating relations, 20,000 Burmese staged an anti-Thailand rally in Kengtung Saturday. Burmese state controlled media say the demonstrators blasted Thailand for allegedly supporting Burma's separatist rebels.

Tensions between the two counties have been brewing since last month when Thailand sent thousands of troops to its northern border with Burma. Thailand said the troops were there on a military exercise. Burma considered the move provocative amid reports of cross-border shelling.

In an effort to cool tensions, Thailand ordered an early halt to the exercises. But Burma was not appeased, closing border checkpoints and restricting trade. Sporadic cross-border clashes persist.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stressed the need to restore smooth relations during his weekly radio address.

The border region has been a source of long-standing tension. Thailand accuses Burma of allowing Wa rebels to run a major illegal narcotics trade after they agreed to end their fight against Rangoon. Burma blames the drug trade problem on Shan rebels and accuses Thailand of aiding them to destabilize the Burmese government.