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Army to keep low profile

                                       November 29, 1998 
                  FOREIGN AFFAIRS

 Army to keep low

 Foreign Ministry to resume leading role

 Wassana Nanuam

 The army will retreat to the back seat and let the Foreign Affairs
 Ministry resume its role in dealing with neighbouring countries,
 especially Burma, an army source said yesterday.

 Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Surayud Chulanont has made it a
 policy that diplomacy, not personal connections, will play a leading
 role in foreign affairs, said the source.

 Under his leadership, the Foreign Affairs Ministry will take charge of
 international affairs while the army provides necessary support and
 assistance, said the source.

 Gen Surayud's policy constitutes a sharp contrast to that adopted by
 his predecessors, especially Gen Chettha Thanajaro.

 Thai foreign policy towards Burma, or the lack of it, has been
 characterised by personal relationship between military chiefs of the
 two countries. General Chettha, for instance, usually used his close
 connections with Burmese military leaders and his personal aides to
 solve the problems with Burma. This has led to the Foreign Ministry
 being bypassed.

 The Directorate of Intelligence staff reportedly worked as
 coordinating officers and took care of meeting schedules and luggage,
 said the source, adding that they were left in the dark about what was
 going on during the meetings.

 He said the directorate has few records of agreements made between
 Thailand and Burma during the past two years and has to rely on
 newspaper clippings. But the directorate will now take back its
 responsibility, the source said.

 The change of policy will also help restore sour relationships between
 the army and the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

 "Under Gen Chettha's leadership, the Foreign Affairs Ministry barely
 had a say in relations with Burma. There was some hard feeling
 because the ministry felt it was being overlooked.

 "Although it can't be denied that the close relationship between Gen
 Chettha and Burmese military leaders have made things go smoother
 and easier, it has spoiled the system," the source said.

 Gen Chettha's role in solving the problems with Burma has been
 remarkable, said the source. The ex-army commander had persuaded
 Burmese military leaders to release some 600 Thai inmates and
 secured better cooperation in the fisheries business.

 He is scheduled to visit Burma next month as an adviser to the interior
 minister to seek cooperation in combatting narcotics along the
 Thai-Burmese border.



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 Last Modified: Sun, Nov 29, 1998
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