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Thai senator lifts lid on treasure trove

Thaksin
Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra has visited the site of the claimed treasure trove  

BANGKOK, Thailand -- A Thai senator says he has discovered a treasure chest containing thousands of tons of gold that could cure the country's economic woes.

Senator Chaowarin Latthasaksiri says the riches, rumored to be worth billions of dollars, were found Friday in a cave close to the border with Myanmar after a five-year long search.

The booty, which some reports say includes U.S. government bonds worth $55 billion, is said to have been hidden by the Japanese forces at the end of World War II.

Chaowarin has made such claims before, in 1995, triggering a mini gold rush to the area. But despite extensive searches no buried treasure was found.

Nonetheless rumors of vast fortunes to be made have continued to tempt fortune seekers to the area.

Last year six treasure hunters suffocated to death in a makeshift mine after searching for gold they believed had been hidden by departing Japanese soldiers shortly before they surrendered to allied troops.

This time however, officials believe there may be some truth to Chaowarin's claim and on Friday Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra flew to the site to examine the find for himself.

No hard evidence

Although no tangible evidence of the treasure has been released, and even Chaowarin says he has not yet seen the loot himself, the prime minister told reporters after his visit that he had no reason to discount the senator's story.

On Monday the Bangkok Post reported that the Thai Forestry Department would begin operations to drill open the cave, clearing some 2,000 tons of stone and boulders in an effort to uncover the hoard.

Forestry Chief Plodprasop Suraswadi told the paper that although he personally did not believe in the existence of the treasure it was important to clear up speculation over its existence once and for all.

According to the Post Chaowarin based his estimates on the size of the treasure trove on a story told to him by an elderly monk who used to meditate in the caves, close to the route of the infamous wartime Thai-Burma railway.

The monk reportedly stumbled across some 50 chests of gold, a steam train and the remains of several Japanese soldiers who had committed suicide in the cave rather than surrender to allied forces.

The monk's story was later recounted to Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

But despite such apparently shaky evidence and despite not having seen any of the treasure himself Chaowarin remains convinced of the treasure's existence.

"I have never been into the cave," the Post quoted the senator as saying. "I never saw the real gold, but I was citing a document to his majesty, and I believe that in this country nobody would lie to the king."

Chaowarin says he is seeking an audience with the king on Tuesday to present his findings after which he says he plans a news conference to reveal further details of the booty.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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