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Burma’s stalled Dawei development project is expected to get a big boost when Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, visits the country next month. State visit is scheduled for 7 October, said a source.
Dawei (also known as Tavoy) today is a sleepy town on the upper Andaman Sea. Development plans foresee a huge seaport, industrial zone and expanding city.
Although the prime minister has yet to specify the exact schedule, the visit is likely to be early in October, said Pisanu Suvanajata, Thai ambassador to Rangoon.
But an army source said Gen Prayut’s visit is planned for Oct 7, after he chairs the National Council for Peace and Order meeting at Ban Mangkasila in Saphan Khao.
“Burma is now in the process of reforming its economic system to modernise the country in line with international practice,” Mr Pisanu said.”Several changes involve existing cooperation projects, such as the Dawei deep-sea port and the development of the industrial zone there.”
A source at a working group on the Dawei project said Burma wants the initial phase to begin in November. Gen Prayut has also ordered agencies concerned to support the project following recent visits by Burmese military leaders to Thailand.
Akom Termpittayapaisit, deputy transport minister and secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), said on Thursday that the government had assigned the NESDB to simplify the process of joint panels that will soon be set up to complete the project.
The Thai-Burma Joint High Level Committee, the Burma-Thai Joint Coordinating Committee and the operation task force will have stripped-down working procedures to speed up the work, he said.
Teerachai Chutiman, chairman of the Kanchanaburi Chamber of Commerce, said he supported stepped-up discussions between Thai and Burmese leaders.
The construction of a deep-sea port at Dawei, west of Bangkok on the Andaman Sea, is expected to stimulate the economy and trade between both countries, but has been stalled for more than a year amid the political crisis in Thailand.
The project has been on hold since ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament last December.
“We are closely monitoring the stance of both Thailand and Burma towards the Dawei project,” Mr Teerachai said, referring to business people in Kanchanaburi.
“We hope that if the project is completed, it will draw visitors and investors to travel to Kanchanaburi before travelling on to Dawei.”
The Phu Nam Ron border crossing in Kanchanaburi is the gateway providing the shortest travelling route from Bangkok to Dawei.
Thailand and Burma have a 50-50 stake in the Dawei special economic zone, which establishes a 75-year concession from the Burma government to develop trade and the deep-sea port. It replaces Italian-Thai Development Plc, which received the concession from Burma in November 2010.
Next month’s visit by Gen Prayut will reaffirm Thailand’s close economic ties with Burma, said Mr Pisanu, the ambassador.
Gen Prayut has set out a policy to foster a stronger relationship with Burma, he said.
Already, Nay Pyi Taw and Bangkok have closely cooperated on security issues. Scores of drug traffickers have been arrested along the border as a result of information sharing, Mr Pisanu said.
He said Thailand will also seek cooperation from the Burmese government to address the Rohingya migrant problem, saying Burma’s domestic policy on the minority group has posed a burden to Thailand.
Thousands of people have fled the country amid persecution.
Mr Pisanu said Gen Prayut has chosen Burma as his first overseas visit because it is currently the chair of Asean. The two countries also share a long border and have maintained good relations, he said, adding that Burma is enthusiastic about welcoming the Thai leader.
During his stay in Burma, Gen Prayut will pay a courtesy call on Burmese President Thein Sein in Nay Pyi Taw, Mr Pisanu said.
He also plans to meet Thai community members in Rangoon, where about 2,000 Thai nationals are staying.
Among them are Thai investors in small- and medium-sized companies, as well as members of large corporations to talk with them about the government’s development policy and other incentives.
Asked whether Gen Prayut would pay a visit to E Thi, a deaf-mute Burmese fortune teller who counts Thai generals and powerful politicians among her clientele, Mr Pisanu said the premier may not have enough time for that. He said, however, this will depend on his schedule.
Mr Pisanu said he has not yet been informed whether the itinerary will include a visit to Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He said the visit is primarily to introduce himself to the Burmese leader and to promote good relations.
Most plans and blueprints produced so far for development of Dawei have focused on the advantages of the scheme for Thailand.
This article was first published in The Bangkok Post on 26 September 2014