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Post Coup Fears Keep US Troops From Thailand R&R

Post Coup Fears Keep US Troops From Thailand R&R


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The U.S. military in South Korea warned its troops not to travel to Thailand because the aftermath of Bangkok's coup could turn anti-American, but about 60 Thais defied martial law on Monday (September 25) and denounced the new military junta as "demented and ridiculous."

"U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) is warning its personnel to avoid traveling to Thailand 'until further notice' following the Sept. 19 military coup," the Stars and Stripes newspaper reported on Monday (September 25).

"Although there has been neither violence nor indications of direct threats to American citizens, civil disturbances could occur in Thailand resulting in anti-foreign sentiments or activities," said the "force-protection warning" issued by the USFK to its troops, civilian employees, contractors and family members.

"USFK personnel who are required to travel to Thailand must remain 'aware of their surroundings at all times and be prepared to change plans should the situation dictate'," reported the Stars and Stripes, which is a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper for the U.S. military, Defense Department civilians, contractors, and their families.

The unusual warning for U.S. military in South Korea to avoid this Southeast Asian nation came after the U.S. State Department said it was examining legal requirements for continuing American military and other direct aid to Bangkok after the bloodless Thai military coup crushed the elected government.

America also has military personnel in Thailand, but it was not immediately known if they were ordered to be careful when appearing in public.

The U.S. spends a large amount of time, treasure and manpower training Thailand's military, including a yearly Cobra Gold exercise which is America's largest multinational military exercise in Asia.

Blood ties between Washington and Bangkok date back to the Vietnam War, when Thailand allowed U.S. warplanes to use its airfields to unleash massive bombardments against Indochina, and Thai troops fought alongside U.S. forces on the battlefield.

In 2003, Thailand became a "major non-NATO ally" of the U.S., while then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra allowed the CIA to seize a suspected Indonesian Islamist terrorist in Thailand, named Hambali, who was recently hauled to Guantanamo without charges, trial, or access to the outside world since his capture.

In 2005, Mr. Thaksin prompted speculation he would lessen Thailand's dependence on purchasing U.S. F-16 jet fighters, and might opt for Russia's Sukhoi SU-30s in a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Using tanks, armored personnel carriers, U.S.-supplied M-16 assault rifles, Humvees and other weaponry, a faction of Thailand's military climbed over the white walls of Bangkok's Government House and took control on Sept. 19 while Mr. Thaksin was in New York City to address the United Nations and Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr. Thaksin, who is also a billionaire tycoon, then flew to London where he is holed up with his adult daughter while the coup leaders investigate allegations of massive corruption committed by him and his family, along with officials in his ousted government.

The coup "is disappointing, and we do consider it a setback," said State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey on Thursday (September 21).

"Under the Foreign Operations Assistance Act, this Fiscal Year -- Fiscal Year '06 -- there is approximately 14 million dollars in bilateral assistance to Thailand," which was placed under "review" because of the coup, Mr. Casey said.

That aid includes "military assistance under the Foreign Operations Assistance Act, the combination of Foreign Military Financing, and IMET, International Military Education and Training," worth about four million U.S. dollars, he said.

"It's pretty clear that when you have a coup, when you depose, or have a break with democracy, that whatever is included in that is something that neither we, nor any other democratic country, can support."

Meanwhile, about 60 young Thais, watched by about 100 others, boldly held a rally at prestigious Thammasat University on Monday (September 25) against the coup.
The military junta earlier demanded people call it the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM), but the protesters unfurled a white banner with red lettering which mocked the regime's acronym as the "Council of Demented and Ridiculous Military."

"If we don't make a stand, we won't have any rights in this country," Giles Ji Ungpakorn, one of the rally leaders, said in an interview at the site -- the second small protest since the coup leaders clamped this country under martial law, banned political activity, censored the broadcast media and imposed other restrictions.

"I am very happy with the number of people here, and we hope it will encourage others to make a stand," said Mr. Giles, a political science lecturer at nearby Chulalongkorn University.

"I'm a socialist," he said, reflecting a left-wing tradition among student protesters against the military during previous coups in the 1970s, and the last coup in 1991.

"The military has no right to stage a coup," he said.

Ignoring a junta decree forbidding Thai Web sites from hosting political comments by Internet surfers, the popular Nation newspaper's Web site, www.nationmultimedia.com, continued on Monday (September 25) to allow people to debate the coup, resulting in shrill praise, insulting condemnation, and posts which coolly discussed the pros and cons of liquidating Thailand's democracy.

*************

Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich, who has reported news from Asia for the past 28 years, and is co-author of the non-fiction book of investigative journalism, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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