Australian response to takeover 'disappoints'

national June 03, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Australia has announced that it will downgrade relations with Thailand, banning travel there by junta leaders and cutting defence cooperation in the wake of the military's power seizure - a move that has been met with disappointment on the Thai side.

Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Puangketkaew conveyed Thai disappointment to Australian representatives at the Shangri La Dialogue on security issues held in Singapore at the weekend, the ministry’s spokesman Sek Wannamethee said yesterday.

In addition, Sihasak met Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin yesterday to brief him on the junta’s roadmap for Thailand’s political future. 
The briefing to Myanmar, which is chairing Asean this year, aimed to give neighbouring states in the group a better understanding of the situation backed up with facts, Sek said.
Ready to explain 
Most Asean countries, including Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, have voiced concern about the power seizure because they realise that Thailand plays a very important role in the grouping, Sek said. 
Thailand is the second largest economy in Asean. 
Meanwhile, Australia said on Saturday that it had postponed three activities with the Thai military and would not allow junta leaders on to Australian soil because it has “grave concerns” about the coup. 
“In line with our concerns, Australia is reducing our engagement with the Thai military and will lower the level of our interaction with the Thai military leadership,” Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister David Johnston said in a joint statement.
“The Australian government continues to call on the military to set a pathway for a return to democracy and the rule of law as soon as possible, to refrain from arbitrary detentions, to release those detained for political reasons and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The statement also said it looked forward to “normalising our relationship as soon as possible”, but added that it would continue to “review defence and other bilateral activities”.
Sek responded to this by saying: “What happened in Thailand will certainly have an impact on the region, but we have confirmed that our position on foreign affairs will remain the same.”
He went on to say that he did not think Asean would hold a special meeting to discuss Thailand, as the grouping would adhere to its non-interference policy. 
Meanwhile, the latest information shows that 63 countries have now issued travel warnings for Thailand, while 19 have issued travel advisories urging their citizens to stay away. 
The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, has sent a summary of the junta’s roadmaps to Thai ambassadors overseas so they are able to provide explanations to their host countries. 

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