CHIANGRAI TIMES -A reliable border source said a football match was being organized between Myanmar’s KBZ FC and the Chiang Rai United team to be played in Chiang Sai district of Chiang Rai next Saturday.
The source said local businesses have hailed the match as a major step towards warmer trans-border trade relations
Over the years, border businesses and authorities have sent invitations to Myanmar for its football team to play in Chiang Rai. However, Myanmar has repeatedly declined the offer.
Finally, the challenge was accepted and organisers hope the friendly match will help foster cross-border friendship. The proper football match will be followed by an informal game between high-level border officials and senior military officers of the two countries.
Pagaimas Viera, who owns the Mekong Delta Travel Agency that runs Chiang Rai-based Mekong cruises, said the match is historic, with commercial ties expected to grow in leaps and bounds as a result.
While there have been cross-border football matches before, they have only been kickabouts between soldiers of the two countries in fun games aimed at fostering goodwill in the aftermath of border skirmishes.
The Feb 25 game will be the first professional football fixture between Thai and Myanmar teams in Chiang Rai.
Trade and cultural promotion activities fill the calendar after the match, said Ms Pagaimas, also chairwoman of the Thai-Myanmar Culture Association.
She said tighter cooperation is on the horizon, marked by reciprocal visits of business representatives and high-ranking administrative delegates, and the boost in trade will extend beyond Thailand and Myanmar to other neighbouring countries.
The border source said the brighter bilateral ties could favour not only the two countries but also the wider regional economy. Myanmar authorities could be motivated to modernize the old R3B highway linking Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai with Myanmar, Laos and southern China.
Parts of the highway cut through rebel-controlled areas in Myanmar, but the new government there has engaged in peace talks with the ethnic minorities to end their decades-long conflicts.
The R3B route has not been used commercially for many years because it passes through security-sensitive zones.
However, if the Myanmar government can reach a peace deal with rebel groups, it could provide a tremendous push for the route to be upgraded, which could provide a significant trade boost for the region.