Thai PM Prayuth to visit Myanmar on first official trip

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's coup leader and premier Prayuth Chan-O-Cha will visit Myanmar on his first official overseas trip, an official said on Friday, as the junta seeks to strengthen ties with its former military-ruled neighbour.

Prayuth will travel to Myanmar "as soon as possible", deputy foreign minister Don Pramudwinai told AFP, saying the trip could take place by the end of this month or early October.

"The Prime Minister is scheduled to visit Myanmar as his first foreign country because Myanmar currently chairs Asean," Don said, referring to the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations of which Thailand is also a member.

Prayuth is next expected to visit other Asean member states beginning with Malaysia, he added.

For decades, former military-ruled Myanmar was treated as a pariah state by the West, but since a nominally civilian government took power in 2011, the nation has been lauded for its dramatic reforms.

Thailand's coup makers, meanwhile, have been chided by the United States and the European Union for grabbing power from an elected government in May, spurring the junta to boost relations with Asian neighbours instead.

In July, when Myanmar's army chief Min Aung Hlaing visited Bangkok, the Thai military said it had won the country's backing. Since the coup, the junta has curtailed dissent in Thailand by hauling in protesters, muzzling the media and threatening those found in breach of martial law with trial in a military court.

Myanmar, which hosted its first Asean summit in May, has been a member of the bloc for 17 years but was forced to renounce the rotating presidency in 2006 because of criticism over its rights record and the then-ruling junta's failure to shift to democracy.

Prayuth has said he was forced to take power after months of protests against ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra's administration left 28 people dead and hundreds wounded. He has ruled out holding new elections before October 2015, despite international appeals for a return to democracy. Myanmar is also set to hold parliamentary elections next year.