Thursday, 19 June 2014

Thai coup delays visa exemption plan

Thailand’s military coup has delayed the planned introduction of a visa-exemption program for Myanmar nationals, a senior embassy official says.

Myanmar has said it wants to tie up visa-exemption arrangements with all fellow ASEAN members, but so far it has only agreed deals with Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Chainarong Keratiyutwong, deputy chief of mission at the Thai embassy in Yangon, said on June 16 that a planned deal with Thailand has stalled due to political turmoil of the past six months, which prompted the military to seize power in late May.

“The agreement for the visa exemption is still pending,” he said. “We would like to have a visa exemption between our countries – we are now pushing our government to confirm that. We are waiting the response.”

One issue to be ironed out is who would be eligible for the program. According to Mr Keratiyutwong, Myanmar has requested a visa exemption for all tourists travelling to Thailand, but Bangkok has resisted because of concerns about Myanmar nationals overstaying illegally. It has instead proposed granting visa exemptions only to those arriving in the country by air.

Myanmar citizens travelling to Thailand must currently apply for a visa at the Thai embassy in Yangon.

Mr Keratiyutwong was speaking at the launch of budget airline Thai AirAsia’s Fly Thru service for flights from Yangon and Mandalay.

The service, which begins on June 17, enables passengers to transit in Bangkok a without having to pass through immigration, which would require a Thai visa.
These destinations include long haul routes serviced by the company's AirAsia X carrier.

Passengers are also exempt from airport taxes at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok.

Both Mr Keratiyutwong and Nadda Buranasiri, chief executive officer at Thai AirAsia X, stressed that the political situation in Thailand should not deter travellers from making trips to the country or travelling through its airports to other destinations.

“Things in Thailand are clear. After the incident last month, Thailand has become more stable,” Mr Keratiyutwong said.

Thailand’s military, led by Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, announced on May 22 that it was taking power after months of political upheaval.

“The situation right now is very stable,” Mr Buranasiri said. “Travelling to Bangkok and Thailand is very safe right now.”

While Thai tourism has been hard-hit by the coup, passenger traffic on Thai AirAsia’s routes into Myanmar is growing, the airline said.

Santisuk Klongchaiya, commercial director at Thai AirAsia, said the airline’s Bangkok to Yangon route saw a passenger increase of 15 percent in the first five months of the year, while its Bangkok to Mandalay route grew 30pc year-on-year over the same period.

source: The Myanmar Times
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