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Thai PM Visits Burma to Discuss Combating Drug Trafficking - 2003-02-09

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra arrived in northern Burma Sunday for two days of talks on strengthening cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking along their common border.

Mr. Thaksin says fighting the illegal drug trade will top his agenda when he meets with Burma's military rulers. He was greeted early Sunday by military officers upon his arrival in Myitkina, capitol of the northern Kachin state. Mr. Thaksin then he flew further north to a mountain resort, where he will explore tourism opportunities for Thailand.

Later, he will fly to a beach resort in western Burma where the talks will be held. He will meet General Than Shwe, who heads Burma's government, and first secretary Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt.

Relations between Thailand and Burma were badly strained last May after violent border clashes prompted Burma to accuse Thailand of aiding ethnic rebels fighting the government.

Thailand has denied the charge. Bangkok blames ethnic minorities from Burma for the increasing flood of illegal drugs flowing into the country.

Political analyst Chayachoke Chulasiriwong from Thailand's Chulalongkorn University says relations between the two countries have improved since last year. "I think his main idea, his main objective of going to Burma, is to strengthen the cooperation in terms of eradicating the drug problem," he said.

Mr. Thaksin has been accused at home of using strong-arm tactics in dealing with the illegal drug problem. His campaign to rid the country of illegal drugs has prompted human rights groups to express concern about the rising number of deaths of alleged drug dealers, some who are thought to have been summarily executed by the police.

Mr. Chayachoke said Burma needs to take steps to prove it is serious about halting the lucrative border drug trade, and show Thailand it is willing to cooperate along the border. "By our going is to remind them at least to try to work out some kind of strategy how we could help them or they could help us in terms of eradicating the drug problem," he said.

Mr. Thaksin's visit, his second to Burma since taking office two years ago, will also focus on the status of illegal Burmese migrants, economic relations between the two countries, and ethnic minorities in the region. Mr. Thaksin returns to Bangkok Monday afternoon.