Thai diplomat announces Thailand-Myanmar humanitarian initiative on border

The Thai foreign minister highlighted humanitarian aims, while Myanmar regime-run media described recent bilateral talks between the countries as focused on eradicating drug trafficking, scams and illegal online gambling

Following talks with Myanmar junta officials, Thailand foreign minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said on Tuesday that he was hopeful new plans for cooperation between the countries would finally open the door to resolving Myanmar’s long-standing humanitarian crises.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, the Thai diplomat called for support from the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), non-ASEAN neighbouring countries such as China and India, and other “external partners” such as the US and Japan.  

However, he emphasised that establishing channels for internal negotiations between the regime and its opponents within Myanmar should be the central focus. 

“Most importantly, we need to encourage engagement in terms of genuine dialogue and reconciliation between the military and all the opposition parties and armed ethnic groups in Myanmar, without which there can be no lasting peace,” Parnpree said. 

While regional officials have been making largely unheeded calls for dialogue to end the violence in Myanmar since the coup, Parnpree believed his recent talks with the Myanmar junta could in fact lead to this kind of negotiation. 

The Thai minister said he and the junta’s foreign minister Than Swe had agreed to address the “immediate goal” of enhancing humanitarian aid by creating a working group to assist people displaced by conflict and others in urgent need on the Thailand-Myanmar border and “further inland.”

Although he did not give the location or date, Parnpree is known to have had a meeting with Than Swe in Beijing on December 7, 2023.

The delivery of the aid would initially be entrusted to the two countries’ respective Red Cross Societies, Parnpree said, and he hoped that ASEAN’s Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management could subsequently be tasked with monitoring how the aid was distributed. 

“As we see it, humanitarian assistance leads to humanitarian pause and humanitarian dialogue. We believe that this approach, if it evolves as we hope, will help in the implementation of ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus,” the Thai foreign minister said.

Notably, recent accounts of meetings between Thai and Myanmar officials in regime-run media outlets paint a different picture of the countries’ shared priorities and intentions regarding the border region between them. 

According to the junta-controlled newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar, in a January 13 teleconference, junta chief Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Thai Chief of Defence Forces General Songwit Noonpackdee discussed working together on “drug eradication and counter-terrorism, eradication of illegal trade, exchange of information, and efforts for ensuring peace and stability in border areas.”

It is unclear whether junta officials’ increased preoccupation with establishing security in the Thai-Myanmar border area is due to the recent loss of territory and control to ethnic armed groups on the China-Myanmar border. Both border areas are notorious hotbeds of trafficking, illegal gambling, sprawling online scam operations, and organised crime. 

Junta officials agreed to ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus plan two months after seizing power in Myanmar in 2021, including terms requiring the presence of ASEAN observers in Myanmar. However, the junta subsequently reneged on the agreement, saying it would be impossible to implement until Myanmar’s internal situation became “stable.”

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