- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

BANGKOK — Ties between Thailand and Singapore — two of America’s staunchest Southeast Asian military allies — have turned sour over Singapore’s decision to host Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai prime minister who was toppled in a military coup last year.

The royalist junta in Bangkok blasted Singapore’s government for allowing Mr. Thaksin to meet its deputy prime minister last week and blocked CNN and the British Broadcasting Corp. from broadcasting Mr. Thaksin’s statements made while in Singapore.

The rapidly deteriorating relationship between the normally friendly neighbors has sparked security fears at the highest levels of Bangkok’s military regime.

“The army is also in trouble,” warned army commander in chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, who led the bloodless Sept. 19 coup against Mr. Thaksin’s popularly elected government.

“Our communications and information sent over mobile phones or via satellite could appear in Singapore,” Gen. Sonthi told a forum last week. “Although Singapore is not our enemy, we are economic rivals. They could be informed of secrets in the army and in the economic sector.”

Thailand’s satellite-based communications are partially owned by the Singapore government.

Angered by Mr. Thaksin’s activities in Singapore, the junta canceled high-level meetings between the two countries, including Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo’s invitation to Bangkok for a three day civil-service exchange program later this month.

Pro-coup Thai newspaper the Nation said the move against Mr. Yeo should also be seen as “a stern warning to China, Britain, Australia, the U.S., Indonesia and others over Thailand’s sensitivities about any future dealings they may have with the ousted premier, who is accused of massive corruption.”

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, who was installed by the military, said the government is concerned because there are many Thais who “are still loyal to and love Mr. Thaksin. So we ask Singapore to consider whether his movements send any messages to Thailand.”

Singapore expressed dismay at Thailand’s strong reaction to the Thaksin visit.

“It was purely a social and private meeting. No official calls or meetings were arranged,” Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said. “We hope Thailand will respect Singapore’s position as that of a sovereign country. We value the long-standing friendly relations with Thailand.”

Mr. Thaksin has long-standing ties to Singapore, which is a major investor in Thailand, especially in banking, real estate and telecommunications. He and his family sold their shares in their telecommunications empire, Shin Corp., to the Singapore government’s Temasek Holdings for $1.8 billion last January.

Gen. Sonthi, about to be fired by Mr. Thaksin, led a coup against the prime minister amid emotional charges that Mr. Thaksin had illegally dodged capital-gains tax on the Shin Corp. deal, among other reputedly corrupt practices during his five-year administration.

Thailand revoked the diplomatic passports of Mr. Thaksin and his wealthy wife, Pojaman, on Jan. 10, citing “security concerns,” but the pair were allowed to use normal passports to continue their travels, which earlier included London, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Beijing.

The junta also blamed unidentified “undercurrents” — presumably people who lost power and money as a result of the coup — for a string of New Year’s Eve bomb blasts in Bangkok, which killed three persons and injured 38.

Mr. Thaksin’s fate has already jeopardized U.S. attempts to strengthen Thailand’s armed forces.

About $14 million in U.S. military assistance has been placed under “review” because of the coup, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in September.

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