Bangkok Post 24 July 2012
By Achara Ashayagachat
Activists disappointed human rights off agenda
Thailand and Myanmar agreed yesterday to set up a joint committee to follow up on economic cooperation that includes linking the future Dawei deep-sea port with the Thai Eastern Seaboard.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the joint committee, to be headed by a cabinet minister from each country, will meet next month to sort out pending issues and expand activities in the development of the Dawei special economic zone.
This includes the Dawei port project now being built by Italian-Thai Development Plc.
The decision was reached after a 90-minute talk between the Thai and Myanmar delegations headed by Ms Yingluck and Myanmar President Thein Sein at Government House.
The two sides signed three memoranda of understanding at the meeting.
The first MoU reaffirms the Thai- Myanmar obligations to kick-start the comprehensive development of the Dawei economic zone and deep-sea port.
The second MoU involves economic cooperation in support of Myanmar's human resources development, capacity-building for Myanmar's Asean chairmanship in 2014, and infrastructure development inside the country.
The third MoU covers an agreement to set up an energy forum to explore further cooperation, Ms Yingluck said.
The two delegations also agreed to further expand economic activity along their common border. This includes opening new checkpoints at Kiu Pha Wok in Chiang Mai (opposite Kaya State), Ban Hua Ton Noon in Mae Hong Son (opposite Shan state), Ban Pu Nam Ron in Kanchanaburi (opposite Pyathuangsu state), and a temporary border crossing in Ratchaburi province (opposite Tanintharyi state).
Ms Yingluck said Thailand would support Myanmar's rice industry and take care of Myanmar migrant labourers in a just manner and under Thai laws.
The two countries, which will celebrate the 65th anniversary of their diplomatic relations next year, also plan to continue cooperating in the fight against the illegal drugs trade.
President Thein Sein also met executives from Charoen Pokphand, Siam Cement Group and the Petroleum Authority of Thailand.
He was also granted an audience with HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn at Chitralada Palace before attending a dinner reception hosted by Ms Yingluck at Government House.
While the issue of 92 Thais arrested in Myanmar was not mentioned at the joint press briefing, the permanent secretary for foreign affairs said the Myanmar leader has pledged to look into their ordeal and assured they would be fairly treated under Myanmar's laws.
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The 92 Thais are scheduled to stand trial at the Kawthaung court opposite Ranong province on Friday on charges of trespassing on Burmese territory and possessing firearms and drugs, said Thani Thongpakdi, the foreign ministry's spokesman.
Human rights activists expressed disappointment that Myanmar's human rights abuses were not raised during the talks. Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Asia researcher, said the issues in Myanmar that have long affected the countries' relationship pertained to ethnic minorities, border conflicts that have produced hundreds of thousands of Karen and Karenni refugees, political and economic instability that has generated millions of ethnic minority migrants, and systemic persecution of the Rohingya leading to "boat people" in Thai waters.
Violations of these people's human rights was a root cause of their displacement, and Prime Minister Yingluck should have raised this in her discussions with Thein Sein, he said.
Khin Ohmar, of the Mae Sot-based Burma Partnership, said the issue of human rights should have been a focal point since Thailand has long sheltered a large number of displaced persons.