Thu, Jun 26, 2014 - Page 1 News List

US cuts more Thailand aid, considers moving annual joint military exercise

AFP and Reuters, WASHINGTON

The US said on Tuesday it has suspended more assistance to Thailand in response to a military coup and was considering moving a major regional exercise out of the kingdom.

Washington has blocked US$4.7 million in security-related aid to Thailand, which accounts for roughly half of its US$10.5 million in annual assistance to the longtime ally, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Scot Marciel said in testimony to the US Congress.

Washington swiftly rebuked Thailand’s military after it defied warnings not to intervene in the political chaos. The US State Department announced that it had frozen US$3.5 million in aid just one day after the May 22 coup.

The additionally suspended assistance includes a US-sponsored firearms training program for the Thai police and a study trip to the US for senior Thai police officers, another US official said.

Marciel said that the US was also considering moving next year’s Cobra Gold — one of the largest US military exercises and a key element in the US strategy of pivoting power to Asia.

The US and Thailand have held the annual exercises together since 1980, this year involving about 13,000 participants from US-friendly nations across the region.

“We’ll certainly be looking at it very closely. It will depend partly on what happens on the ground there,” Marciel said in response to a question.

US Representative Steve Chabot, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia, said that exercises in Thailand “could clearly send the wrong message” to Thailand and around the world “in light of the repressive nature” of the junta.

Chabot called on US President Barack Obama’s administration to study moving next year’s exercises to Darwin, Australia, where about 2,500 US Marines have been deployed as part of the pivot to Asia.

Meanwhile, Thai Air Force Air Chief Marshall Prajin Juntong played down the significance of any possible move to shift the Cobra Gold exercises, held annually in Chon Buri, a province east of Bangkok.

“The Royal Thai Air Force trains with other international friends, including Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. This should be no problem at all,” Prajin told reporters in Bangkok yesterday.

Prajin said he was confident that relations with Washington would return to normal quickly as they did after the 2006 coup, when the US cut aid to its military ally.

“At that time, the US pressured us too, but after we created understanding the situation returned to normal and we believe it will be like that again this time,” Prajin said.

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