THAKSIN VOWS: Troops will stay in Iraq

PM ignores renewed calls to bring troops home from US-led war Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra vowed yesterday to keep Thai troops in Iraq, brushing off renewed public demands that they be withdrawn from the war-torn country following the death of two Thai soldiers in a truck-bomb attack on Saturday. "We reaffirm our stance to continue our humanitarian work in Iraq. . . . As long as Iraqis are still suffering we will stay on," Thaksin said. "All Thai troops there are in good spirits and willing to continue the mission. Nobody wants to retreat," he added. The first Thai casualties in the mission to Iraq occurred on Saturday, when a bomb-laden truck was used to attack a coalition camp in the southern city of Karbala. Sgt-Majors First Class Amporn Chulert and Mitr Klaharn died while guarding the entrance gate to Lima camp. Thaksin blamed anti-US Arab groups for the incident, saying it was not the work of ordinary Iraqis. "Real Iraqi people understand and are satisfied with our mission to help them, and they always feed intelligence information to warn our troops," he said. Thaksin expressed his regrets to the families of the two soldiers and said they would receive high honours. "They were brave - standing guard although the camp received an intelligence warning of the attack," he said. Army commander in chief Chaiyasith Shinawatra said the military did not consider the possibility of withdrawal but would dispatch more troops to replace the two killed. The Army is preparing to send a second shift to Iraq by March as scheduled, Chaiyasith said. Each family of the two soldiers will get compensation of Bt2.16 million from insurance and Bt500,000 from Thaksin personally, the Army chief said. Thaksin said US President George W Bush telephoned him early yesterday to express his condolences for the two soldiers killed. The opposition, Senators and civic groups, however, renewed demands for the withdrawal of all 443 troops in the mission, saying the soldiers should make sacrifices for their motherland rather than die in a war for others. Senator Chermsak Pinthong called upon the prime minister to reverse the decision to continue the mission, saying honour and compensation could not substitute the loss of lives. "I don't know how the Prime Minister would feel if the soldiers were his sons," Chermsak said. He also alleged that business interests were behind the decision to send Thai troops to the US-led war. Bush's granting of Major Non-Nato Ally status to Thailand following the decision to dispatch troops to Iraq might lead to a satellite business deal with the US for some private companies, the senator said. He also called on the government to list which Thai companies would benefit from reconstruction projects in Iraq. MP Kobsak Chutikul, vice chairman of the House committee of foreign affairs, said now was not the time to pull out of Iraq, as it would cause the government and the military to lose creditability in the international community. "But we sill need to review the situation seriously and should open public or parliamentary debate before dispatching the second shift after the first six-month mission," Kobsak said. The previous decision to send troops was made in haste without public consent, he added. Academic Ji Ungphakorn from Chulalongkorn University, who has strongly opposed the mission, said sending troops as a favour to the US, even for a humanitarian mission, draws Thailand into the war with Iraqis who oppose Washington "The government is telling a lie when it says Iraqi people welcome our troops . . . It's not true at all. They [Iraqis] are against all US lackeys," he said. "Iraq is a war zone where local people see Thai troops as a part of the US-led coalition, not a kind man who gives them candy or instant noodles," he added. Opposition leader Banyat Bantadtan said he regretted the loss of Thai lives in Iraq and urged the government to take responsibility for the decision to send them there, which contradicted the will of the people. ------- Hundreds offer condolences to families of fallen soldiers Hundreds of villagers, relatives and friends of the two Thai soldiers killed in Iraq yesterday lined up to offer condolences to their surviving family members in Phatthalung and Ratchaburi provinces. Two sergeants-major first class, Mitr Klaharn and Amporn Chulert, were killed Saturday while on guard duty following a suicide bomb explosion at Karbala, Iraq. Mitr's wife Pranee Klaharn expressed shock and disbelief at his death. "Just a few days ago, I had a long-distance call from my husband. He told me that Thai soldiers were well received by Iraqi people. I am still in shock that he was killed by a truck bomb," she said. Pranee said their only son, Narongrit Klaharn, 12, was grief-stricken at losing his father. Mitr was an engineer based in Phatthalung before volunteering for the reconstruction mission in Iraq. Amporn is survived by his wife Kanmol and two sons, Chinakorn, 22, and Chaisan, 20. "My father Amporn called home a few days before his death. I could never have known that his instruction for me to take care of the fam-ily on his behalf would prove to foretell his fate," Chinakorn said. Amporn was a military carpenter at an infantry base in Ratchaburi. -------- Most want troops to come home Most people want the Thai troops stationed in Iraq to return home following the deaths of two soldiers in a truck-bomb attack in the country on Saturday, a survey has found. Fifty-seven per cent of 1,050 people interviewed by Suan Dusit Poll in Bangkok and its suburbs yesterday said that the government should withdraw the troops as soon as possible for their safety. The respondents who wanted the troops to leave Iraq said they feared another attack or situations that might be life-threatening for Thai troops deployed in the country. But 30.5 per cent of respondents said the troops should remain in Iraq, adding that the situation was not yet critical enough for the troops to pull out. They also said that the withdrawal could damage the reputation and integrity of the Thai Army. When asked what they would like to say to Thai troops in Iraq, most of the respondents replied that said they wished the soldiers to be patient, strong and very careful.


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