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BosNewsLife (01/21/06) – Thailand will push Burma “as hard as we can” to free Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, while also opening a new bridge across a river to link the two Southeast Asian nations, BosNewsLife established Saturday, January 21.

“We would like to see the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. That’s clear,” Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said. “We want to see her released, as immediately as possible. We will press hard, as hard as we can, for that,” Kantathi added.

Thailand ‘s lucrative commercial relations with Burma , also known as Myanmar , have attracted complaints from Suu Kyi’s supporters that Bangkok ‘s elected politicians are too cozy with Rangoon ‘s ruling generals. “I have to share with you another secret: Myanmar has sometimes kept me from sleeping — not full nights — but partial. Of course, that [Suu Kyi’s house arrest] is a very sensitive issue for Thailand ,” Kantathi told the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand this week.

“We would like Myanmar to accept the foreign minister of Malaysia , Syed Hamid Albar…as soon as possible.” Kantathi was referring to frustrated attempts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to send Syed as a representative to Burma , to meet the regime’s coup-installed generals and Suu Kyi, and pressure Burma into freeing her.

“We heard that the trip has been postponed because Myanmar had to focus attention this month on the movement of the capital, but nevertheless we have emphasized, and we will of course emphasize,” that ASEAN’s representative should be allowed to visit Burma “very soon,” he said.

“If not January, then February or March. That’s the timetable we have.” Burma is currently shifting its capital from Rangoon to the central city of Pyinmana. The secretive generals have kept the move to Pyinmana under tight security, sparking speculation that they were following astrological warnings, or feared an invasion by US forces.

Burma ‘s Information Minister Kyaw Hsan said however the move was to improve governing the country, which has suffered 50 years of guerrilla wars by various minority ethnic tribes — including Shan, Chin and predominantly Christian Karen — who want autonomy or independence for their far-flung, jungle-clad regions.

A BosNewsLife team in Burma discovered that villages of especially Karen people have been shelled by government backed forces in recent months. While they hope to have an autonomous region within Burma , Karen leaders made it clear they would accept Suu Kyi as leader of Burma and as someone who could help heal the wounds of history.

Burma ’s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), a group of generals, has so far shown no willingness to free her at a time when it concentrates its power structures in Pyinmana. “It [Pyinmana] is centrally located, and has quick access to all parts of the country,” Information Minister Kyaw Hsan told reporters in November.

Impoverished, chaotic Rangoon became a security nightmare for the generals in 1988 when their forces reportedly killed more than 1,000 people while crushing anti-government demonstrations.

By shifting the main ministries and other government offices to newly fortified, isolated Pyinmana, the regime might feel safer from a possible future uprising, analysts say.

Foreign embassies in Rangoon were perplexed by the move, but were not expected to immediately rebase in Pyinmana. “If you need to communicate on urgent matters, you can send a fax to Pyinmana,” Burma ‘s foreign ministry told stunned ambassadors in November.

That same month, the regime extended Suu Kyi’s detention by another 12 months. Sixty-year-old Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She has been under house arrest, on and off, for 10 of the past 15 years in her gloomy Rangoon villa.

Her National League for Democracy party won a landslide election victory in 1990, but the results were ignored by the military. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in November Burma was “one of the worst regimes in the world” because of relentless violations of human rights.

Washington and the European Union enforce some economic sanctions against Burma in an effort to pressure the regime into freeing Mrs. Suu Kyi and allowing democracy. However Burma stays solvent because of friendly economic relations with its immediate neighbors, including China , India , Thailand , Malaysia and Singapore .

“This weekend, we are opening a bridge,” linking northwest Thailand and northeast Burma across the narrow Salween River , Kantathi explained. “The bridge will facilitate communication between our peoples.”

Thailand and Burma already share a modest overland crossing, plus daily flights linking Bangkok and Chiang Mai with Rangoon and Mandalay . “We share 2,400 kilometers of border with them,” Kantathi said. “I always tell them to look at Thailand . We are a mature democracy, and look at what we have done.”