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New Economic Strategy Adopted at Burma Summit - 2003-11-12

The leaders of Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia are holding a summit in Burma during which they will adopt a new economic strategy for their region.

The spokesman for the Thai Foreign Affairs ministry, Sihasak Phuangketkeow says the four nations have formed a new group called the Economic Cooperation Strategy, or ECS, to alleviate poverty, which Thailand believes is the root cause of crime and illegal immigration in the region.

"This idea, the ECS cooperation, was initiated by Thailand earlier this year and basically it's to promote common economic development among Thailand and the three neighboring countries of Thailand," he explained.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Wednesday told his fellow leaders from Burma, Cambodia and Laos that his government will extend grants and loans to their governments for development projects, particularly in their border areas. The projects will cover agriculture, trade, industrial development, transportation and tourism.

He said Thailand will benefit if its neighbors prosper because prosperity will reduce drug trafficking and illegal migration in his kingdom. There are an estimated one million illegal migrant workers in Thailand from Burma alone. And many of the illegal drugs flooding Southeast Asia are believed to come from the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Burma and Laos share a border.

During his visit to Burma, Prime Minister Thaksin met with senior officials of the government.

Thai officials say Burma's political situation is not on the agenda, but they acknowledge that before the trip, Thailand's foreign minister and Razali Ismail, the United Nations special envoy to Burma, discussed the confrontation between the military government and the pro-democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr. Razali is trying to broker talks between the Burmese government and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak says Thailand wants to see progress toward reconciliation as set out in the road map announced in August by the government of Burma, also called as Myanmar.

"We understand that the Myanmar government is working out the details on how they plan to move forward with the road map, the seven-point road map that they have announced," he said. "At the same time, we believe that it's important for the international community to engage Myanmar."

The spokesman said the Thai government has proposed a forum with Burma and what he called other like-minded countries to discuss implementing the road map and international support for it.