Thailand is closely monitoring the political situation in Burma, where public discontent over fuel price increases has led to demonstrations and the arrest of a number of protesters in Rangoon.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sawanit Kongsiri said yesterday that the situation was under close watch due to concerns that it could affect Burma’s roadmap to democracy.

But Mr Sawanit was optimistic that what was happening in Burma would not disrupt the ongoing National Convention to draft a constitution.

The Burmese government had announced that the process would be completed next month, as earlier pledged, he added.

Pornpimon Trichot, a Burma expert at Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of East Asian Studies, said the Burmese junta’s crackdown on protests against fuel price hikes would not disturb Thai or other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

”Asean and Thailand are concerned more about economic interests, such as energy benefits in Burma, than the plight of the Burmese people. Therefore, they have reserved their comments while the international community comes out to condemn the suppression,” she said.

But Ms Pornpimon also disagreed with some western analysts who said the current peaceful demonstrations could not bring down the Burmese military regime and would be eliminated swiftly.

”It is not a direct challenge against the junta. It is civil disobedience and an expression of daily suffering that is beyond what can be tolerated, such as the plight of Aids patients, the plight of the students and the unjust increasing cost of living, especially fuel prices,” Ms Pornpimon said.

Meanwhile, army chief Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin visited Burma yesterday in an attempt to ensure smooth cooperation between the two countries’ border forces after his retirement at the end of next month.

In what will be his last trip as army chief, and to bid farewell to Burmese military leaders, Gen Sonthi said talks between commanders along the border to solve their common problems should continue after his retirement.

He said he wanted to assure the Burmese leaders the Thai armed forces’ policy toward Burma would remain unchanged after his retirement.

Gen Sonthi met Senior General Than Shwe, leader of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and the Burmese armed forces, and Gen Maung Aye, the Burmese army chief and deputy chairman of the SPDC, during his visit yesterday to Burma’s new administrative capital, Naypyidaw.