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Suspicious junta frustrates Thais

South China Morning Post
Thursday  October 2  1997

Suspicious junta frustrates Thais 
ANALYSIS by William Barnes in Bangkok 
Three months ago Burma was welcomed into the Association of Southeast Asian 
Nations, but that did not stop it from building on a Moei River island to spy 
on Thailand.
Burma is desperate for friends but remains suspicious of outsiders, especially 
its traditional enemy across the river.
Burmese soldiers are cloaked in a fierce tradition that their key task is to 
protect the Burmese heartland from rapacious foreigners.
So when nature decided a couple of years ago to change the course of the Moei 
River - an important border marker - it clipped a few score hectares off Burma 
in favour of Thailand.
The result has been a long and bitter squabble that Thai peace-seekers have 
failed to quell.
The "principled" Burmese simply do not trust the "unprincipled" Thais, as they 
tend to view things.
Burmese Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw may sit beaming at any number of regional 
conferences that preach non-confrontation, but along the border it is the hard 
men of the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the ruling military junta, 
who still call the shots.
This means that the nearby, newly completed HK$25 million Friendship Bridge, 
remains unused - to the frustration of Thai traders who are eager to do 
business across the border.
Earlier this year Thai army chief General Chettha Thanajaro hugged his 
opposite number, General Maung Aye, on the bridge, declaring "mutual 
understanding" had been achieved.
The Burmese regime has no access to development money from the likes of the 
World Bank or the Asian Development Bank because of its poor human rights 
record and refusal to deal with the opposition, the National League for 
Yet the junta has been ambivalent at best. The generals appear to like the 
idea of Thai money being used to open up Tavoy port and other transport links.
But enthusiastic Thai talk of opening an overland route into Rangoon has met 
with a cool response. A local politician who wanted to lead a "friendship" 
convoy was firmly rebuffed.
"We find it very frustrating. Nothing we do seems to please them," said one 
Thai security official.