Thailand hails US policy shift

Oct 2, 2009 (DVB), Thailand has welcomed the announcement by the United States that it will engage directly with the Burmese junta, and said that Burma has already made positive steps toward reform.

A statement released by the Thai government said the policy change aims to "ensure Myanmar’s [Burma] smooth transition towards democracy and participation as a responsible member of the international community".

Thailand has long been an advocate of engagement with the Burmese junta, and has rejected past calls from the US to implement sanctions on the regime.

Bangkok's stance is in line with that of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc, which follows a policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member state.

The statement also heralded the recent prisoner amnesty in Burma as "a positive step in the right direction towards a democratic society".

Burma expert Thailand's Payap University, Win Min, said that Thailand's support for the policy change wasn't surprising.

"[Thailand has] been asking the US to engage, and to lift sanctions. They got one thing, even though they didn't get lifting of sanctions," he said. "They see it as the beginning step that will lead to the revoking of sanctions."

Speculation as to the reasons for greater US engagement with Burma has surrounded recent debates about the policy shifting, with some observers questioning whether the US was looking to draw Burma away from China and North Korea.

Following talks with senior Burmese delegates in New York on Monday, US state department official Kurt Campbell said that the meeting "also focused on emerging questions and concerns regarding Burma's relationship with North Korea".

"I don't think they're worried about Burma being closer to the US," said Win Min. "I think they're worried about them being closer to China , that was one of the main reasons why ASEAN included Burma."

Reporting by Francis Wade

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