Thai Exim bank to complete Burma loan, Gov't to boost economic ties with junta

Bangkok Post reporters
Sunday, March 16, 2008

Article from Bangkok Post

The Export-Import Bank of Thailand is cleared to hand Burma any
remaining funds from a four-billion-baht soft loan to the junta that
had been suspended due to alleged irregularities, Foreign Minister
Noppadon Pattama said yesterday.

Thailand will also push ahead with construction of the Tasang
hydropower dam and other infrastructure projects in Burma, he added.

The fresh move came as Thailand tried to foster closer economic ties
with Burma following the first official visit to the country on Friday
by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej since he took office last month.

The issue of outstanding money from the loan was not tabled for
discussion when Mr Samak and other Thai officials met with Burma's
junta leaders including Sen Gen Than Shwe on Friday in the country's
new capital of Naypyidaw.

Asked in Bangkok about the future of the loan meant to help improve
Burma's infrastructure facilities, Mr Noppadon said the government
will not allow political wrangles in Thailand to obstruct attempts to
strengthen relations with Burma and other neighbours. Thailand's
internal problems ''have no effect on the right of Burma to get the
money,'' he told a press conference.

It remains unclear how much of the four-billion-baht loan has yet to
be handed to the ruling junta in Burma.

Mr Noppadon said yesterday that only one billion baht had been given
to Burma so far; however, the bank said in a statement released in
September last year that all but 341 million baht of the loan had
already been handed over.

The loan was signed between the Export-Import Bank of Thailand and the
Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank in June 2004, when then premier Thaksin
Shinawatra was in power.

However, the military-appointed Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC), set
up by the coup makers after ousting Thaksin's government from power in
2006, agreed in August last year to press criminal charges against the
former premier for alleged abuse of his position in ordering a one-
billion-baht increase in the amount of the loan, allegedly for the
benefit of his family's satellite and broadband businesses.

The additional money was approved for the Burmese government to
develop telecommunications facilities, including buying goods and
services from the satellite broadband and fibre-optic firm Shin
Satellite Co, according to the ASC.

The panel has not yet forwarded the charges on the loan to

The Burmese junta also raised the issue of the 7,110-megawatt Tasang
dam, which Thailand won a concession to build 10 years ago. There has
been little progress since then however.

Mr Noppadon said the government would urge the private sector to go
ahead with the project, which would boost energy security for the

The Tasang dam is the largest of the proposed hydroelectric projects
on the Salween River in Burma's Shan State, about 130 kilometres from
the Thai-Burmese border.

The 228-metre-high dam is slated to be the tallest dam in all of
Southeast Asia. The reservoir will flood hundreds of square kilometres
of land, according to Salween Watch, a coalition of NGOs based in
Chiang Mai which monitors the issue.

Thai firm MDX signed an agreement with the Burmese junta in 2002 to
develop the project. However, the planned dam has met with stiff
opposition from environmentalists and other activists because it could
force several thousand people to leave their homes and land and move

Thailand has also pledged to develop the Tavoy deep-sea port in Burma
to open trade and investment links with western Thailand, Mr Noppadon

Thailand is one of Burma's biggest investors and trading partners,
spending billions of dollars annually to tap into the country's
natural gas and hydropower resources.

The kingdom is at odds with the West over ways to deal with Burma's
military regime, which sparked global outrage following its deadly
crackdown on peaceful protests in September 2007. The United States
and the European Union tightened sanctions against Burma's ruling
generals after the suppression.