Burma Inks Port Deal

Thailand signs a deal to build a deep-sea port on Burma's coast.

dawei.jpg Thailand has signed a deal to build a deep-sea port off of Burma's coast.

As Burma’s military generals rebuff international concerns over the legitimacy of their November elections, neighbor Thailand is already eyeing mammoth post-election plans to boost trade with the pariah state.

Following a trip to Burma, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said this week that a deal has been signed for Thai firms to build a deep-sea port in Dawei, formerly known as Tavoy, a city in southeastern Burma that could become part of an economic zone.

Abhisit also conveyed to the generals international concerns over the upcoming Nov. 7 vote, but they shrugged them off.

According to a spokesman for the Thai prime minister, the generals replied that Burma is accustomed to holding elections and that they know what they would have to do for the benefit of the people.

The junta says the elections are part of its long-announced "roadmap to democracy," but rights groups have dismissed it as a sham designed to keep the military in power.

The junta never allowed democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which won Burma's last election in 1990, to take power. She has spent most of the past two decades in detention while her party has been dissolved by the authorities because it chose to boycott the vote, saying the rules were unfair.

Among those questioning the legitimacy of the vote was U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who said it would not be credible without the release of political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has also criticized the elections but said it hoped a new government that emerged from the polls would bring about reforms.

“We’ve expressed our concerns about the upcoming electoral process, which we do not believe will be free or fair,” State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said. “And we will watch events as they unfold in Burma and hope that a new government will take a different approach than it has in the past.”

Deep-sea port

Amid the election concerns, Thailand and Burma have agreed to jointly develop a deep-sea port at Dawei on Burma's Andaman Sea coast linked to a new economic zone, Abhisit said, according to Thai media.

The Thai prime minister also said he has been assured by his Burmese counterpart that a key Thai-Burmese border point at Myawaddy-Mae Sot will reopen soon.

An agreement signed during the trip includes construction of 100-mile (160-kilometer) road and rail links between Kanchanaburi in western Thailand and the Dawei port, as well as a special economic zone to be built on a 100,000-acre (40,500-hectare) plot near the port, reports said.

The projects are expected to cost billions of dollars and could be the largest single investment in Burma, which has faced years of international sanctions due to its military rule.

Thailand is currently the largest investor in Burma, with interests totaling U.S $7.41 billion between 1988 and 2008.

"Unlike the international community, Thailand has been supportive of the elections," said Ernie Bower, a Southeast Asian analyst at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya has even called the elections “a crucial step … lead[ing] to national reconciliation and unity,” Bower noted.

Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Burmese service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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