Trade, not democracy, focus of Thai trip to Myanmar

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Bilateral trade, not democracy, will top the agenda of Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s one-day trip to military-ruled neighbouring Myanmar on Friday, a government spokesman said.

Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej holds up his ballot during an election for members of the Senate at a polling station in Bangkok March 2, 2008. Bilateral trade, not democracy, will top the agenda of Samak's one-day trip to military-ruled neighbouring Myanmar on Friday, a government spokesman said. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa

“It is not on the agenda,” spokesman Wichianchot Sukchotrat told reporters who asked if Samak planned to discuss democratisation plans in the former Burma, ruled by the military since 1962.

Samak’s coalition government, which took office last month, had said there would be no change of Thai policy of not interfering in Myanmar despite new U.S. and European sanctions on the junta imposed after a bloody crackdown in September. Samak would ask Prime Minister General Thein Sein to help facilitate Thai investment, Wichianchot said on Thursday.

Samak planned to ask Thein Sein to help a Thai construction firm keep its 40 percent stake in the $6.3 billion Ta Sang hydropower project after Myanmar officials said they wanted to cut it to 24 percent, Wichianchot said.

“We would like to ask the Myanmar government retain the stake that they have promised us. Our discussion will focus on how to protect our country’s interests,” he said.

The Myanmar plan was to raise the government’s stake and that of a Chinese firm in the dam to be built on the Salwaeen River in southern Shan State which has drawn opposition from environmentalists.

The Myanmar government wants to raise its stake in the 7,000 megawatt hydropower project to 25 percent from 10 percent and the Chinese stake to 51 percent from 45 percent, Wichianchot said.

Thailand says democracy and human rights are internal affairs of Myanmar -- the focus of international opprobrium since troops and police killed at least 31 people in a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in September.

Despite international pressure on Myanmar and its neighbours not to do business with the junta, Thailand remained the sole importer of Myanmar gas in 2007, buying 55 percent more than it did a year earlier.

Other bilateral issues Samak will raise include cooperation on tackling drug trafficking and hundreds of thousands of illegal migrant workers in Thailand, which shares a 2,400-km border with Myanmar, his spokesman said.