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Head of the Thai military, General Prayuth Chan-ocha left for an introductory visit to Burma yesterday, to “strengthen military ties” between the two neighbours.
General Prayuth, according to the Bangkok Post, said the visit was aimed at joint co-operation in stemming the flow of drugs that stream into Thailand from northern Burma, with the massive rise in amphetamines in the region over the last few years.
Prayuth however is a controversial figure having taken part in Thailand’s last coup in which the military seized power from a democratically elected government in 2006. He was recently quoted in the press stating that he would not rule out another military coup.
He is known for his ardent, unquestioning nationalism, and statements such as, “if you are skeptical, you cannot be considered a Thai person.”
He was heavily involved in the blood thirsty crushing of protracted ‘red shirt’ protests last year in which 91 people lost their lives.
The coup saw a doubling of the Thai military’s budget and the drafting of a new military constitution, he will thus likely feel at home in the presence of former general Thein Sein. Who himself presided over the drafting and implementation of Burma’s controversial 2008 constitution and maintained the country’s military expenditure, which according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute runs at a world record 26% of GDP.
Thailand and Burma’s military relationship has in the past been frosty, but has warmed in recent years. Partly because Thailand’s new foe lies to the east in the form of Cambodia, and partly because of the investments that Thailand has made in Burma, making it of strategic importance.
Some US$ 2.5 billion worth of natural gas flows to Thailand annually to keep Bangkok powered whilst the Dawei project in Mon State will be a massive Thai project that circumvents local objections that surfaced over the Maptaphut chemical project in Thailand.
However whilst discussing the drugs problem, Thailand’s close intelligence relationship with groups such as the Shan State Army along the shared border will likely emerge. The Burmese have been engaged in a bitter struggle to crush the ethnic armed group since they refused to sign up to a Border Guard Force agreement. They have been urging their Thai counterparts to cease providing shelter for rebel groups.
The Thai’s for their part have long seen such groups as a convenient buffer between the two historical enemies, whilst offering Thai intelligence a convenient window into their neighbours northern hinterlands.