- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2007

Thai troubles

The diplomatic skills of the ambassador from Thailand are being severely tested as he tries to convince Washington that a military junta will restore democracy and that his government deserves foreign investment even though it is widely accused of violating copyrights, patents and trademarks.

He must also explain why a traditionally peaceable nation is racked by religious violence in the southern part of the country, where Muslim militants are butchering the minority Buddhist population.

“It is not a society under military rule. The military has stepped aside,” Ambassador Krit Garnjana-Goonchorn told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

However, the State Department and independent observers note that the junta, led by Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, appointed the prime minister, retired Gen. Surayud Chulanont, and still controls the interim government that has promised elections in December.

The junta last year overthrew the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose election was marred by voting fraud. The military rulers then repealed the constitution, abolished parliament, imposed martial law and limited civil liberties.

The ambassador declined to call the military action a “coup,” insisting instead that it was a “military intervention,” which he justified by saying the previous government was corrupt and inefficient.

Mr. Garnjana-Goonchorn added that the interim government has proposed a new constitution, which will be submitted for voter approval in September.

“We’ve had a democracy for about 20 years uninterrupted. Now it has been imbedded in our national psyche that we will not tolerate a lack of democracy for very long,” he said.

Mr. Garnjana-Goonchorn said the government is trying to establish better relations with its Muslim citizens and with neighboring Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation. He also denounced the “beheadings and shootings of young students” and other violence in the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkhla and Yala.

He blamed an international public relations campaign for the accusation that the government fails to respect intellectual-property rights. However, the State Department has placed Thailand on a watch list of countries that routinely violate foreign copyrights, patents and trademarks.

“It is not that the country can’t be trusted,” the ambassador said. “One can easily overstate the negative side of compulsory licensing.”

The latest dispute involved the government’s threat to issue a compulsory license that would allow Thailand to develop a low-cost generic version of an AIDS-treatment drug produced by Abbott Laboratories. Abbott recently agreed to lower its prices to avoid the clash, but other foreign pharmaceutical companies have discussed withdrawing their investments in Thailand.

Mr. Garnjana-Goonchorn hopes to focus more attention on Thailand in a major seminar tomorrow and Thursday at the Holiday Inn Arlington that will feature Lt. Gen. Sirapong Boonpat, deputy secretary-general of Thailand’s National Security Council, and Winichai Chaemchaeng, deputy director-general of trade negotiations.

Aid to Kenya

Washington plans to spend more than $14 million to help Kenya combat terrorism, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi announced.

The embassy said the money will be used to establish a forensics lab, open a maritime training center and train and equip four coastal patrol units to search for terrorists, especially from suspected al Qaeda infiltration into neighboring Somalia.

“Both sides agree that they share a common interest in combating crime and terrorism in order to strengthen democracy in Kenya and to promote stability in the Horn of Africa,” the embassy said.

Kenya has been the victim of terrorist attacks, including the bombing of the old U.S. Embassy in 1998 that killed more than 200.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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