- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

BANGKOK — Thailand will push Burma “as hard as we can” to free Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, while also opening a new bridge across a river to link the two Southeast Asian nations, a senior government official said.

“We would like to see the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. That’s clear,” Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said late last week. “We want to see her released, as immediately as possible. We will press hard, as hard as we can, for that.”

Thailand’s lucrative commercial relations with Burma, also known as Myanmar, have attracted complaints from Mrs. Suu Kyi’s supporters that Bangkok’s elected politicians are too cozy with Rangoon’s ruling generals.

“I have to share with you another secret: Myanmar has sometimes kept me from sleeping — not full nights — but partial. Of course, that [Suu Kyi’s house arrest] is a very sensitive issue for Thailand,” Mr. Kantathi said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on Thursday.

“We would like Myanmar to accept the foreign minister of Malaysia, Syed Hamid Albar … as soon as possible.”

Mr. Kantathi was referring to frustrated attempts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to send Mr. Syed to Burma. If Burma allows Mr. Syed to enter, he wants to meet the regime’s coup-installed generals, Mrs. Suu Kyi, and pressure Burma into freeing her.

“We heard that the trip has been postponed because Myanmar had to focus attention this month on the movement of the capital, but nevertheless we have emphasized, and we will of course emphasize” that ASEAN’s representative should be allowed to visit Burma “very soon,” he said.

Burma is currently shifting its capital from Rangoon to the central city of Pyinmana.

The secretive generals have kept the move to Pyinmana under tight security, sparking speculation that they are following astrological warnings or are worried about a U.S. invasion.

Burmese Information Minister Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan said the move was intended to improve the governing of the country, which has suffered 50 years of guerrilla wars by various minority ethnic tribes — including the Shan, Chin and Karen — who want autonomy or independence for their far-flung, jungle-clad regions.

Pyinmana “is centrally located and has quick access to all parts of the country,” Gen. Kyaw Hsan told reporters in November. Impoverished, chaotic Rangoon became a security nightmare for the generals in 1988, when they killed more than 1,000 people while crushing anti-government demonstrations.

By shifting the government offices to newly fortified and isolated Pyinmana, the regime might feel safer.

Foreign embassies in Rangoon were perplexed by the move but were not expected to immediately move to Pyinmana.

“If you need to communicate on urgent matters, you can send a fax to Pyinmana,” Burma’s foreign ministry told stunned ambassadors in November.

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