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Thai Senator Urges Talks with Burma - 2002-06-05

Tensions along the Thai-Burma border remain high, as the death toll rises from an attack by masked gunmen on a school bus in Thailand. A senior Thai senator is calling for Thailand and Burma to begin talks to calm the situation.

Thai police intensified efforts to find the gunmen who killed three Thai school children. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The three gunmen opened fire Tuesday with automatic rifles at a school bus, 20 kilometers from the border with Burma.

The Thai government says investigations are focusing on Rangoon-allied minority militias, as well as Burmese dissident students seeking to strain already tense relations.

Burmese ethnic-minority groups and Burma's military government deny responsibility.

Thai senator Kraisak Choonhavan says both governments should start immediate negotiations to ease border tensions: "I call on the government on both sides to logically sit down and negotiate before any further escalation, that this hideous crime is unforgivable," he said. "The perpetrators of this crime have to be arrested and punished. I just can't understand who would be capable of such action."

A Burmese state-run newspaper accuses the ethnic Karen or other rebel groups for the attack.

But Karen leaders also deny involvement and blame the Burmese military. Burma says it has built up border forces to respond to attacks from ethnic rebels.

Border tensions have escalated recently, after Rangoon accused the Thai army of supporting a rebel group in northwestern Burma. Thailand denies providing support.

Senator Kraisak, from the senate foreign affairs committee, says there are no clear reasons why relations deteriorated so rapidly. Just last month, senior Burmese officials were in Bangkok, a visit that was hailed as successful. Mr. Kraisak said he can not imagine what went wrong. "The trouble still exists but definitely there was an agreement to solve this problem on both sides. There must be something more to it than we can seem" he said.

Thailand has undertaken several initiatives with Burma's military government, including additional payments for Burmese natural gas and more funding to fight drug trafficking.

Rangoon has criticized Thai military exercises along the border and has started a propaganda campaign against Thailand.