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Myanmar’s junta chief meets Thai counterpart at beach resort to discuss military ties

UPDATED AT 1:16 p.m. ET ON 1-20-2022

Myanmar’s junta chief met with his Thai counterpart at a Myanmar beach resort on Thursday for talks that will likely focus on military relations and stability issues along their 1,500-mile (2,415-kilometer) border, according to sources in the country and Thailand’s military.

The three-day meeting between Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and a delegation led by Gen. Chalermpol Srisawat, Thailand’s military chief of staff, in Ngapali in Rakhine state’s Thandwe township is the eighth annual gathering for the two nations’ military leaders.

Myanmar’s military is squaring off with anti-junta forces that include People’s Defense Force paramilitary groups and ethnic armies on multiple fronts in embattled Kayah, Kayin and Shan states, as well as Tanintharyi region, all of which border Thailand.

The official Global New Light of Myanmar reported on Friday that Min Aung Hlaing rolled out the red carpet for the Thai delegation at Ngapali Beach’s Pristine Mermaid Resort, treating them to a dinner accompanied by performances by artists from the Myawady Entertainment Troupe under the Directorate of Public Relations and Psychological Warfare and from the Myanma Radio and Television under the Ministry of Information.

A press release issued by the Royal Thai Armed Forces said that during the meeting the two sides discussed “a friendship sporting event to boost a relationship of both sides’ personnel and families, an exchange of military cultures, an exchange of combat medical matters, [and] a cooperation in Military Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief.” It said plans were also made to cooperate on border security issues including drug trafficking, “social strengthening” of border villages, and the repatriation of displaced persons.

Junta Deputy Information Minister Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun told RFA he was unable to comment because he was not present at the talks.

Myanmar-based political analyst Than Soe Naing told RFA that an issue of pressing concern for both nations is an ongoing junta campaign of heavy aerial attacks on areas controlled by the ethnic Karen National Union along the border in Kayin state, near Thailand.

“At a time when the [junta] has to decide whether or not to continue with airstrikes, it will be important to discuss these issues with Thai officials in order to gain an understanding,” he said.

The two sides will also likely discuss the issues of Myanmar refugees who have fled to Thailand since the coup as well as shells mistakenly fired into Thai territory by junta troops, Than Soe Naing said.

Min Aung Hlaing, viewed as a pariah by the international community after leading a February 2021 coup and subsequent violent crackdown on Myanmar’s opposition, enjoys close personal ties to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who himself seized power in a 2014 putsch. 

Prayut Chan-o-cha helps to prop up the junta through supporting Thai natural gas purchases from Myanmar, and Thursday’s meeting came just days after the two countries reopened the key Myawaddy-Mae Sot Friendship Bridge border crossing after a three-year hiatus.

Thai soldiers stand in formation during the annual troop rotation ceremony inspection at Chulabhorn military camp in Narathiwat province in 2022. Min Aung Hlaing is said by observers to envy the Thai military. Credit: AFP
Thai soldiers stand in formation during the annual troop rotation ceremony inspection at Chulabhorn military camp in Narathiwat province in 2022. Min Aung Hlaing is said by observers to envy the Thai military. Credit: AFP

‘Secret talks’

Than Soe Naing, the analyst, also suggested that there could also be “secret talks” between the two generals regarding Thai authorities’ confiscation of assets owned by Min Aung Hlaing’s children during the arrest of Myanmar arms broker Tun Min Latt on charges of drug smuggling and money laundering in September last year.

The discovery of a property title belonging to Min Aung Hlaing’s son, Aung Pyae Sone, and two bank passbooks belonging to his daughter, Khin Thiri Thet Mon, among the seized assets as detailed in a report by campaign group Justice for Myanmar last week has prompted calls for a probe into their ties and to block their access to Thailand’s financial system.

Another Burmese analyst, Sai Kyi Zin Soe, downplayed any indication that a meeting between the two leaders might lead to unexpected announcements.

“It is not unusual to see something like this,” he said, noting that Myanmar and Thailand have a long history of diplomatic relations that precede their current political situations.

But he predicted that the two sides will “have much to talk about” because of the similarities of their rise to power and eagerness to hold post-coup general elections. Thailand has scheduled an election for May 7 – its second since the 2014 takeover – while the junta has also vowed to hold a ballot this year, although a date has not been announced.

Burmese observers frequently suggest that Min Aung Hlaing envies Thailand’s military because of the control it exerts over the stability of the country, despite having staged an unpopular coup.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

This story has been updated to include details from a Royal Thai Armed Forces press release and a report by the Global New Light of Myanmar.

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