Myanmar agrees to join talks on drug trafficking

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The Independent Online

Myanmar, the main source of illicit drugs in South-east Asia's Golden Triangle, has agreed to join tripartite talks with Thailand and China to address the problem of drug trafficking

Myanmar, the main source of illicit drugs in South-east Asia's Golden Triangle, has agreed to join tripartite talks with Thailand and China to address the problem of drug trafficking, the Thai foreign minister said.

Myanmar deputy foreign minister Khin Maung Win notified Thailand on sidelines of a conference of East Asian and Latin American states in Chile that it would join the meeting, proposed by Thailand. China has already agreed to take part. No date has been set.

Thai Foreign Minister Surakiat Sathirathai told a press conference in Bangkok late yesterday, conducted by phone from Santiago, that the agreement of Myanmar showed that its relations with Thailand were in good shape despite recent problems.

"The recent tension was just a local conflict which often happens between neighbors," Surakiat said.

Surakiat said that he would visit Myanmar on May 1–2 at the invitation of his counterpart Win Aung for bilateral talks, following an informal meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Yangon on April 30.

Bilateral relations have been badly strained after the armies of the two countries clashed at the northern Thai–Myanmar border in February, the worst such confrontation in years. It led to the closure of border checkpoints and a drop in trade.

Thailand also accuses Myanmar's military regime of turning a blind eye to drug lords producing methamphetamines smuggled for sale in Thailand, which is grappling with a rise in crime and other drug–linked social problems.

China, which is a close ally of the Myanmar military regime, also faces serious levels of heroin and methamphetamine addiction particularly in southern areas bordering Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Thai officials say most of the drugs sold in Thailand are produced by the United Wa State Army, a former ethnic rebel group that signed a cease–fire with the junta more than one decade ago. It is believed to operate dozens of drug refineries along Myanmar's border with Thailand.

Myanmar has retorted to Thai criticism by saying it should clean up its own house and crack down on corrupt politicians who profit from the drugs trade.

On Monday, a Thai–Myanmar regional border committee led by senior military officers from both countries is due to convene at Keng Tung in northeastern Myanmar to try and patch up differences following February's border clash, Thai officials said.

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