- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thailand recovering

Thailand is determined to restore democracy, confront corruption and negotiate with Muslims rebels who have turned the southern part of the Southeast Asian nation into a war zone, the Thai ambassador said yesterday.

Ambassador Virasakdi Futrakul told The Washington Times that the Sept. 19 coup that swept an elected government from power was a response to the overwhelming corruption of the previous administration of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly session at the time of his overthrow. He is now in exile in England.

“The takeover was not because of the situation in the south,” the ambassador told Hsin-Hsien Sheena Wong, a correspondent for The Times. “It was mainly because of the concern by the military that there would be a bloody confrontation when [Mr. Thaksin] returned from the U.N.”

Mr. Futrakul explained that the priorities of the interim government include the adoption of a new constitution that will be subject to approval in a voter referendum. If it is adopted, national assembly elections would be scheduled within 30 to 90 days.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej gave the government his blessing, and the new prime minister, retired Army Gen. Surayud Chulanont, appointed Nitya Pibulsonggram, the respected ambassador to the United States from 1996 to 2000, as foreign minister.

“There are two priorities of the government,” Mr. Futrakul said. “One is national reconciliation and political reform, and the second is to tackle the problem in the south.”

Most Thai Muslims are “still loyal,” he said.

“The people who are causing the violence right now belong to the new generations,” Mr. Futrakul said, referring to rebels influenced by Muslim fundamentalism and jihadist terrorism.

The ambassador, who presented his credentials to President Bush in February, said the coup did not affect his position.

“I represent the king of Thailand, which is the first and oldest friend of the United States,” the ambassador said. “No other country in Asia has sent soldiers to fight side-by-side with U.S. soldiers in every major war in the last century from World War I.”

Thailand also has troops helping with the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Arms for Taiwan

The U.S. envoy to Taiwan yesterday pressed the island government to approve the arms purchase worth $10 billion from the United States to build up its defense against a steady and growing military buildup from mainland China.

Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, said Washington is not pressing the country to approve the purchase to help the U.S. arms industry.

“I would be delighted if any other country wanted to sell self-defense weapons to Taiwan, but it seems that there is no one who wants to do that,” he said, according to the press.

Most countries, including the United States, recognize the communist government in Beijing and the representative of the Chinese people. However, Washington has also pledged to defend Taiwan against any military attempt by China to force a unification with the mainland.

The opposition-dominated Taiwanese legislature has repeatedly blocked the sale since President Bush first offered it in 2001.

“Taiwan requires leadership from all sides, [from] both the government and the opposition,” Mr. Young said. “But Taiwan cannot continue to allow the critical security issues be held hostage to domestic concerns.”

Mr. Young added, “I have heard that some members of the opposition said passing the bill would be a gift for President Chen Shui-bian. I disagree with that perspective. This would be a gift for the security and people of Taiwan.”

Opposition lawmakers criticized Mr. Young’s remarks and accused him of issuing an “ultimatum.”

“He sounds like he is governor of Taiwan,” said Joanna Lei of the Kuomintang Party. “Taiwan is not a U.S. colony.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]


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