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Tuesday, 23 November, 1999, 11:23 GMT
Thai minister rebuilds bridges with Rangoon
Burma sealed its border with Thailand after the embassy siege

By Charlotte Bevan in Bangkok

The Thai Foreign Minister, Surin Pitsuwan, has arrived in the Burmese capital, Rangoon, for meetings with the country's military government in an attempt to patch up deteriorating bilateral relations.

Relations between the two countries have been strained since a group of armed students took the Burmese embassy in Bangkok by siege for 24 hours early last month.

Rangoon condemned the Thai response to the hostage taking
The Thai authorities let the students go free in return for the safe release of around 40 hostages - a move that infuriated Burmese authorities.

Burmese officials were also furious when Thai ministers persisted in referring to the armed men as students fighting for democracy, and not, as they would have it, professional terrorists.

After the incident, Burma closed its land border with Thailand and revoked fishing rights for Thai boats, a move that is costing Thailand millions of dollars in lost trade.

Workers expelled

Earlier this month, Thailand expelled tens of thousands of illegal Burmese labourers working in factories along the Thai-Burma border. The resulting sudden influx of returning migrants has added to Burma's dire economic crisis.

Officials on both sides are now hoping the talks will go some way to salvaging relations between the two countries.

Mr Surin's visit is at the invitation of his Burmese counterpart, Win Aung, but correspondents say it is expected he will also be meeting Burma's powerful First Secretary, General Khin Nyunt.

In a move that many thought might appease Burma's leaders, Thailand's security council has announced new security measures to rein in the activities of an estimated 3,000 Burmese activists and students fighting for democracy in Thailand.

They want to move those students to a special holding camp and have urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to speed up the process of resettling them in third countries.

Thailand is keen to patch up its relations with Burma before leaders from the two countries meet at a summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations next week
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See also:
06 Oct 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Bangkok siege 'stank of conspiracy'
02 Oct 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Embassy gunmen flown out
02 Oct 99 |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Embassy under siege
11 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Thai drive against illegal workers
05 Aug 98 |  Burma
What hope for change?

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