Thai Leader Says US Moving Toward Engaging Myanmar

By: Foster Klug - AP Writer
By: Foster Klug - AP Writer

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Tuesday that the United States and Europe appeared toward engaging Myanmar rather than a policy of sanctions only as a means of encouraging political change in the military-run country.

Thailand shares a long border with Myanmar, and Abhisit told an audience at Columbia University he believes talks with the country's military leaders are the best way to affect political change, improve human rights and stem drug trafficking.

Senior lawmakers from both political parties in the United States favor a tough sanctions regime, but the Obama administration is reviewing a policy that top officials acknowledge has not produced results in Myanmar. The country, also known as Burma, has been ruled by military juntas since 1962.

"Engagement is more productive than alienation and isolation," said Abhisit, speaking on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

The United States and the European Union, he said, appear to be questioning the "thinking that more and more sanctions" will cause change. He did not elaborate.

Abhisit also addressed Thailand's tumultuous politics, which have been in chaos since demonstrations three years ago helped spark a military coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Last year, after Thaksin's allies returned to power, demonstrators occupied the prime minister's office for three months and seized the capital's two airports for a week.

Abhisit, a Thaksin rival, took office after those demonstrations. He said that despite the chaos and occasional violence, Thailand has achieved greater stability under his rule. Recent conflict and political anger, he said, are not reflections of a failed democracy but one that is "vibrantly at work."

On Saturday in Bangkok, about 20,000 pro-Thaksin demonstrators marked the third anniversary of the military coup, which they believe set back the cause of democracy. They urge Abhisit to step down, claiming he came to power illegitimately.

Thaksin, who is in self-imposed exile, says Thailand "has gone backward to dictatorship."

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