Myanmar Refugees’ Fate Caught Up in Thailand’s Race for Investment

Myanmar Refugees’ Fate Caught Up in Thailand’s Race for Investment

Thailand's call for the repatriation of more than 140,000 refugees from Myanmar is likely aimed at enhancing investment opportunities in the politically isolated country. Bangkok's insistence that the refugees, who live in nine camps along Thailand's western border, had become a burden came shortly after a report indicated that China had overtaken Thailand as Myanmar's leading investor.

On Feb. 21, Myanmar's Weekly Eleven newspaper carried figures released by a Myanmar trade group showing that more than $3 billion in new investment from November 2010 to January 2011 had brought China's cumulative investment since 1988 to $9.6 billion -- slightly higher than Thailand's $9.5 billion. Less than two months later, on April 11, Thailand's National Security Council chief, Tawin Pleansri, announced Bangkok's intention of repatriating the refuges, saying, "I cannot say when we will close down the camps, but we intend to do it."

Pleansri's statement represented a shift from Bangkok's position before Myanmar's November 2010 elections, the first in 20 years and widely believed to be a sham. In October, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya had said that the government would assess the conditions in Myanmar following the elections, as the safety of the refugees was "a top priority."

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