Academics and human rights advocates have urged the public to closely monitor Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s two-day visit to Burma today during which transport and energy development plans will be high on her agenda.

Critics expressed concern over possible conflicts of interest after ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is Ms Yingluck’s elder brother, stopped over in Burma while he was on his way to Nepal last week.

A Pheu Thai MP said Thaksin had travelled to Burma to smooth the way for projects in which the Pheu Thai-led government will work with Burma, and his younger sister’s visit to that country.

Prime Minister Yingluck is scheduled to leave Bangkok for Naypyidaw, Burma’s new capital, to attend the 4th General Mekong Sub-Region (GMS) Summit today to discuss development of land transport in the region.

The source said the government will use the occasion of Ms Yingluck’s visit to Burma to hold a separate meeting with Burmese officials and investors to negotiate transport and energy development projects.

Thailand plans to buy natural gas and to invest in construction of a transport system linking Dawei industrial complex in southern Burma with the west of Thailand.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political science lecturer of Chulalongkorn University, said he was concerned with the Yingluck government’s plan to open transport and energy talks with Burma as he feared Thaksin’s cronies would reap benefits from the projects rather than the people. Mr Panitan, a former acting government spokesman under the Democrat government, urged the public to keep an eye on the talks.

When Thaksin was prime minister between 2001 and 2004, the government took a special interest in investing in land transport, energy and telecommunications development in Burma.

The former premier ordered the Foreign Ministry to help Burma secure a 1 billion baht loan from the Export-Import Bank of Thailand to buy equipment from his telecoms empire.

Boontan Tansuthepweerawong, secretary-general of the Campaign Committee for Human Rights, said the government must consult the public on any development plan with Burma.

Pianporn Deetes, of the environmental group International Rivers, warned Ms Yingluck against signing any deal with the Burmese government that could lead to destruction of the environment and human rights violations.

The Thai-Burmese gas pipeline project was an example of a mega-project that had caused immense impacts on the environment and minority groups in Burma and along the border.

“Ms Yingluck must think carefully before signing any deal with Burma because any damage caused to the environment and the people of Burma will affect Thailand too,” Ms Pianporn said.

Any project which the government plans to undertake in the neighbouring country must be conducted in a transparent manner, she said.

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who will accompany Ms Yingluck to Burma, confirmed Thailand plans to buy natural gas from Burma to boost the country’s energy supply during the next decade.

Mr Surapong said Energy Minister Pichai Naripthaphan will join him in discussing the energy purchase plan. “We hope the gas and energy deals with Burma will be successful,” Mr Surapong said.

He said leaders of the six member countries of the GMS are expected to approve a new strategic framework for the GMS, which groups Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Laos,Vietnam and China.

The leaders will explore development of economic corridors in the next decade especially railway networks in member countries as railways can help reduce transport costs, he said.

At the meeting, three memorandums of understanding (MoU) will be signed. They comprise the Joint Cooperation in Further Accelerating the Construction of the Information Superhighway and its Applications in the GMS, the Joint Action to Reduce HIV Vulnerability Related to Population Movement, and the Establishment of the GMS Freight Transporters Association. The source said many countries are paying increased attention to the southern economic corridor which links Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam with a possibility of connecting many ports in these countries.

Mr Surapong plans to travel to Burma’s Dawei industrial complex on Jan 7 with another four economics ministers to monitor progress of the port construction and its transport systems investment, the source said.