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‘We are responsible for our people,’ Suu Kyi tells Thai hosts

Burma's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, left, and Thai Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha speak to members of the press in Bangkok on 24 June 2016. (Photo: DVB)

Burma and Thailand have confirmed a joint commitment to work together to ensure that “displaced people” from Burma in Thailand will be safely repatriated to their home country “when the time is right”.

The joint pledge was announced by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha during a news conference at Government House on Friday.

On her first trip to Thailand since coming to power in April, Suu Kyi put issues related to Burmese migrants and displaced people at the top of yesterday’s agenda, while three pacts were signed between government agencies of the two countries, aimed at solving problems facing Burmese migrant workers in Thailand.

Suu Kyi said she will take all Burmese displaced people back home when the time is right for all of them.

“I appreciate what the Thai government has been doing for our people, but all of our people displaced in this country should come back to us,” she said, adding that her government has the responsibility to take care of them.

“We are also responsible for our people here. I will never say that we’re not responsible for them.”

She did not identify the group of displaced people but it is understood she meant Burmese refugees. It is estimated there are about 100,000 in nine camps and shelters in Thailand.

Gen Prayut earlier said that Burma needed to be given more time to take the refugees back.

Suu Kyi said, however, that jobs and skills must be given to the displaced people before they return home. “Our people want work. Our people need work. They want to have the opportunity that can make them stand on their own two feet,” she said.

Gen Prayut and Suu Kyi said Thailand and Burma intend to protect both Burmese migrant workers and displaced people in Thailand.

“We discussed Thailand’s continued support for Myanmar [Burma]’s peace process and agreed that when the situation is right, the two governments will work together to prepare for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of Myanmar displaced people,” Gen Prayut said.

Gen Prayut also described the 68-year diplomatic relationship between the two countries as one belonging to “truly long-time close friends”.

“Thailand and Myanmar are natural strategic partners. The national security and interests of our two countries and people are intertwined and interdependent. We will work with each other and prosper together,” he said.

Gen Prayut said he had discussed a wide range of bilateral issues including protection and promotion of the basic rights and welfare of Burmese migrants in Thailand.

In terms of economic interests, both sides agreed to push forward the implementation of the Burma-Thailand Three Year Development Cooperation Framework (2016-18) and continue with development projects along border areas, including the development of the Dawei Special Economic Zone.

“The governments of Thailand and Myanmar reaffirmed that the Dawei megaproject will create thousands of jobs and improve the livelihoods of people along the border,” Gen Prayut said, pledging to reduce environmental impacts on local communities.

Construction of the second Thailand-Burma Friendship Bridge in Mae Sot in Tak will also proceed, he said. A new route from Bangkok to Tenasserim Division in southern Burma will also be launched shortly.

Suu Kyi on Friday also addressed a gathering of about 300 students from Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, Kasetsart, Rangsit and Srinakharinwirot universities at the Foreign Ministry. Also present were Burmese students who earned scholarships to study in Thailand. The topic for the talk was: ”Myanmar, ASEAN and the World : The Way Forward.”

Suu Kyi said she was glad to talk about the issue with young people because the future is in the hands of the youth. Despite the challenges confronting the world, they must not give up hope that a better future lies ahead, she said.

She also touched on the ”unique” relations between people of Thailand and Burma.

“The way forward is enhanced by the people. Since I arrived in Thailand, I have found a lot of warmth and hospitality and sense of friendship with the government and people of Thailand.”