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Thai-Burma relations under ‘unprecedented strain’

June 12, 2009 (DVB), Thailand's condemnation of the Suu Kyi trial and the arrival of thousands of Burmese refugees has put relations between the two countries under "unprecedented strain", according to a Burmese state-run newspaper.

Burma has come under mounting international criticism over the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose next hearing has been adjourned until 26 June.

Thailand, who holds the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc, has recently expressed "grave concern" both at the lack of democratic progress in the country and the potential for the trial to tarnish the bloc's image.

The normally amiable relationship is likely to have been further strained by the continued influx of thousands of Karen refugees in northern Thailand who have fled a Burmese army offensive against the Karen National Union.

Last month Burma reacted angrily to Thailand's condemnation of the Suu Kyi trial, accusing it of interfering in the country's internal affairs.

An article yesterday in the government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar newspaper further fanned the flames by alleging that Thailand both supports and aids insurgent groups in Burma.

"It is global knowledge that [Thailand] provide fertile soils to Myanmar [Burma] absconders, insurgent groups and anti-government political groups," it said, adding that cessation of conflict in Burma "rests on the cooperation of the neighbouring other country".

Burmese political analyst Aung Naing Oo stressed that it is the new Thai government's emphasis on human rights in Burma that underlies the tension.

"[Regarding] the Burmese military, when you talk about principles you're talking about human rights and human dignity," he said.

"All these issues, don't go down well with the Burmese military."

The article also said that the normally good relations between the two countries were "under strain which has been unprecedented in, history".

The Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in March, prior to the Suu Kyi trial, that the Burmese regime "remains a hideous blight" on the Asian map, and last month questioned the credibility of Burma's self-styled 'roadmap to democracy'.

Seldom has a Thai head of state used such strong language against the Burmese government although, according to Aung Naing Oo, a war of words between the two countries has always raged.

Reporting by Rosalie Smith and Francis Wade


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