Thai PM to visit Myanmar in first overseas foray

Thai PM to visit Myanmar in first overseas foray

BANGKOK - Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha will arrive in Myanmar Thursday, a government spokesman said, in his first overseas foray since grabbing power in a coup as he seeks to redouble economic ties with the kingdom's emerging neighbour.

The Thai junta ruler, who retired as army chief last month, is set for talks with fellow former general President Thein Sein, who swapped his uniform three years ago for civilian clothes as Myanmar edged away from full military rule.

Prayut is chasing international legitimacy for an administration which has suspended Thailand's democracy and imposed sweeping curbs on dissent since toppling the elected government on May 22.

The two leaders will discuss issues including kick-starting the stalled Dawei deep-sea port project, the cross border drug trade, and migration, government spokesman Yongyuth Mayalarap told AFP.

"Over the last year the political situation has made it difficult for Thailand to play its previous role in international relations," he said.

The two-day visit aims to "promote our co-operation on economy, trade and investment", he said, adding the Dawei mega-project will loom large over discussions.

It was hoped that Dawei would tempt foreign investors to Myanmar as it emerges from decades of military rule, and give Thailand a gateway to the Indian Ocean and Western markets.

But it has faced funding difficulties and resistance from local villagers amid accusations of land-grabbing.

Last year Italian-Thai Development (ITD) scaled back its involvement in the project.

- Koh Tao murders

The murder of two British tourists on a Thai resort island is also likely to be high on the agenda after two Myanmar nationals were charged with rape and murder last week over the crime.

Reports in Myanmar media have said the suspects told a lawyer that they confessed to the crime under duress, prompting rights groups to demand a probe into their treatment.

Thai authorities deny using the pair as scapegoats in a case that has turned a spotlight on the darker side to the "Land of Smiles", and tarnished its reputation as a tourist paradise.

Thein Sein "will ask about the two arrested Myanmar workers whom have been accused of murder", a senior official from the president's office in Naypyidaw told AFP.

Prayut, 60, retired at the end of September from a near four-decade career with the coup-prone army.

However, he retains extensive powers as the prime minister of a military-stacked cabinet and head of the junta - the National Council for Peace and Order - whose authority has been guaranteed by an interim constitution.

The gruff former general has vowed to steer reforms to reboot Thailand and excise the country of corruption before holding new elections.

Thein Sein, 69, who took office in 2011 after elections, has also vowed to shape reforms as his nation creeps out of the shadow of decades of authoritarian rule and heads towards landmark general elections late next year.

The bespectacled president served as prime minister in the last incarnation of Myanmar's junta.

The nation is now run by a quasi-civilian administration, although the army retains a 25 per cent bloc of parliamentary seats.

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