Thai Prime Minister to Meet President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw

By The Irrawaddy 9 October 2014

Thailand’s newly installed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha will arrive in Burma on Thursday for his first official overseas visit since assuming the top job.

The recently retired general will meet with President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw, where the two leaders are expected to discuss strengthening economic cooperation, including on the stalled Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Burma’s Tenasserim Division. Prayuth will also travel to Rangoon on Friday to meet with Thai investors.

Although the Thai leader has no plans to visit Dawei itself, Thai government spokesman Yongyuth Mayalarp said Prayuth’s trip was in part designed to “shore up confidence” in the multi-billion dollar Dawei SEZ, according to Reuters.

Slated as Southeast Asia’s biggest industrial estate, the project, which includes an industrial estate, a deep-sea port, and highway, railroad and oil pipeline routes to Bangkok, has faced numerous challenges—not least of which are local grievances over forced evictions and the project’s heavy environmental impact.

In November 2013, Burma and Thailand took the project off lead developer Italian-Thai Development Pcl after it failed to secure private investment. Japan has since shown interest in becoming involved and last week, Thailand’s government pledged to increase their own involvement after talks in Bangkok between Prayuth and Japan’s vice foreign minister, Minoru Kiuchi.

Yongyuth also told the Bangkok Post on Wednesday that Thailand, which is Burma’s second largest trading partner, would sign agreements on forging closer trade ties with its neighbor, including by declaring key border areas as sister provinces.

The meeting between the two former generals, turned civilian leaders, comes as criticism mounts over a controversial Thai police investigation into the murder of two British tourists on Koh Tao in Thailand’s Surat Thani province last month. Reports that the two Burmese migrants suspected of committing the crime were tortured by Thai police during the investigation have drawn criticism from rights groups including Amnesty International.

President’s Office Director Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy earlier this week that Thein Sein would raise the issue of the two migrants during Prayuth’s visit.