- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - Thailand’s coup leader made his first official overseas trip Thursday to neighboring Myanmar for meetings with another former general who has steered his country to democracy after a half-century of dictatorship.

The visit by Prayuth Chan-ocha, who retired from the army last month and is now Thailand’s prime minister, comes at a sensitive time for both countries.

Thailand recently arrested two Myanmar migrants for the killings of two British tourists on a popular resort island last month, and the rights group Amnesty International has alleged the suspects were tortured by police, charges authorities in Thailand deny. Protesters in Myanmar’s main city Yangon were organizing a demonstration Friday to denounce the torture allegations and call for an independent investigation of the two Myanmar suspects.

Prayuth’s government, which came to power after the army overthrew a popularly elected administration, has also grappled with hundreds of thousands of Myanmar refugees who fled fighting between their army and ethnic rebels and concerns about the trafficking of large amounts of Myanmar-produced heroin and methamphetamine into Thailand.

Flying directly to Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, Prayuth was scheduled to meet first with President Thein Sein, who retired from the military and became head of state in 2011. His quasi-civilian government is holding elections next year, but has resisted changes to the military-drafted constitution that would allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president.

Prayuth, too, has spoken about holding elections next year.

Myanmar also has been criticized for bouts of anti-Muslim violence against the minority Rohingyas in the predominantly Buddhist nation.

According to the official schedule, the two leaders will witness the signing of a series of development projects and discuss bilateral ties.

Prayuth also will meet with Thai investors in Yangon on Friday. Thailand is Myanmar’s second largest trade partner after northern neighbor China, with a total trade volume of $5.7 billion for the fiscal year of 2013-2014.

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