Having flown up to Bangkok following the memorial weekend in Khao Lak, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen had two official meetings lined up on Monday. At 11 AM, he arrived at the Government House in Thailand’s capitol, where Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stood ready to welcome him. The two heads of state then went behind closed doors to have official talks, reappearing about 45 minutes later for a joint press conference, which Thaksin opened by thanking Denmark for its “messages of sympathy and condolences” after the Tsunami and for its “technical assistance in terms of know-how, experts, facilities and equipment in needed areas such as forensic science and environment.”
Anders Fogh Rasmussen was quick to reiterate his thankfulness already conveyed in the discussion room prior to the press conference.
“The help and concern that Thailand showed its Danish visitors at a time which was so tragic for Thailand too will never be forgotten in Denmark. On behalf of the Danish people, I would like to thank the Thai people for that,” he said.
“I hope that my visit will further the already good relations between Denmark and Thailand,” he added.
The Burden of Burma
The two Prime Ministers revealed that they had also had time to discuss the early warning system, which is currently being developed. Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that Denmark will contribute financially to this process “under an EU umbrella.”
Other political issues such as the lacking democracy in Burma was also discussed between Fogh and Thaksin.
“I have made it clear to Mr. Thaksin that Denmark is very much concerned with the political situation in Burma right now. We trust that the neighboring countries are doing their utmost to put pressure on the Burmese leadership, and we want to see the opposition leader released and an effort being made to increase the democratic process,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who avoided getting more specific on whether Thailand is putting enough pressure on its neighbor.
“It is not my job to tell Thailand what to do, but I trust that the Prime Minister is doing what he can,” he answered to a follow-up question from Reuters.
“Khao Lak Will Blossom Again”
When asked if he could recommend the devastated Phuket region for Danish tourists after having had a chance to see the destruction with his own eyes, Anders Fogh Rasmussen chose a careful approach, knowing how badly Thailand wants the tourist flow to regain its former strength.
“It is not up to me to recommend vacation places to individuals. There are still a lot of things that need to be rebuilt in Phuket, but I have been impressed to see the effort and commitment applied by the locals in order to get things back on its feet. It was very moving to see the devastation in Khao Lak, but I am sure that that area will blossom again some day,” he said.
Thaksin was quick to add his comments to this.
“Soon the early warning system will be in place, which will make Phuket a safer place. We are doing a lot to rebuild that beautiful region, so tourists can enjoy it like before,” he said.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen then ended the conference with his closing comments on this matter.
“Even though it is not up to me to recommend vacation places to individuals, I will say on my own behalf that I would not hesitate to spend my own vacation in Phuket. Its natural beauty cannot be denied, even after the Tsunami,” he said, earning an applause from most of the Thai press.
Delivering a Message from Queen Margrethe II
The two Prime Ministers then had lunch together at the Government House – a lunch also attended by a long list of VIP-guests, including the ambassadors from Sweden, Norway, and Finland.
Later in the afternoon, Prime Minister Thaksin accompanied Anders Fogh Rasmussen to Hua Hin for an audience with Thailand’s King Bhumibol. Anders Fogh Rasmussen used this occasion to pass on an official message of gratitude from Queen Margrethe II of Denmark to the king.
After a long day of bilateral relationship nurture, Anders Fogh Rasmussen flew back down to Phuket, where he joined the more than 200 relatives of the Danish Tsunami victims for their late Monday night flight to Copenhagen, thus ending the three-day memorial weekend in Thailand.