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Parliament to debate Nasa study

But govt won't allow vote on project today

Ajoint meeting of the two Houses of Parliament will today debate an urgent motion on whether the government should allow Nasa to conduct a climate study in Thailand.

Defence Minister Sukampol Suwannathat, who is in charge of the Navy's airport in Rayong, yesterday sought to play down the proposal, saying there were no security issues involved.

"This is a normal motion. The United States wants to use our area and Parliament has to discuss it. There's nothing special," Sukampol said.

The debate is expected to revive a dispute between the government and the opposition over whether the proposal requires endorsement from parliament under Article 190 of the Constitution, as the opposition insisted when Nasa's request first came up in mid-year.

Science Minister Plodprasob Surassawadee has been assigned by the government to explain details of the request by Nasa - the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration - to use U-Tapao International Airport in its research on tropical climate patterns in Southeast Asia.

Sukampol said the military had no reservations about the US space agency's use of the airport, which is managed by the Navy.

Both the government and opposition would be allowed to argue all aspects of the matter but there would be no voting, he said.

The government's stance is the matter should be discussed under Article 179, which encourages the administration to call a general parliamentary debate on an important problem, in which "no resolution shall be passed".

'Discussed under wrong article'

MP Wirat Kalayasiri from the Democrats said opposition MPs would stress that the Nasa request should be discussed under Article 190 because it involves a security issue and that needed to be passed by Parliament.

Many leading Democrat MPs, including former foreign minister Kasit Piromya, would take to the floor during today's debate, he said.

In July, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra sought a general parliamentary debate on the matter as pressure mounted for the government to turn down the US request to conduct the survey due to concerns over sovereignty. However, the Council of State, the government's legal advisory arm, ruled that this matter does not come under Article 190.

Nasa finally cancelled the multinational climate study after the Thai government failed to give approval, according to a statement from the US Embassy in Bangkok.

"Nasa will not be able to carry out the SEAC4RS scientific study in 2012 because of the lead time necessary to prepare for the study of specific weather patterns only active in August and September," the statement said, referring to the Southeast Asia Composition, Cloud, Climate Coupling Regional Study.

"It is too early to say at this time whether resources will be available to revisit the project next year."

However, Plodprasob said after visiting Washington DC recently that Nasa told him if Thailand gave the green light, about 100 of its staff were ready to come here to conduct the project.

A Thai researcher on the Nasa project expressed joy yesterday that the proposal would be discussed.

"I do hope we will be allowed to study the weather. We still hope and wait to start our research in Thailand," said Narisara Thongboonchoo, an engineering lecturer at King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Lat Krabang, who will be part of the SEAC4RS campaign after participating in two Nasa aerial experiments in Hong Kong and the US.

Countries have already agreed

"Many countries have already allowed Nasa to fly pass their skies, including Singapore and Indonesia, while Malaysia and India are waiting to hear the answer from Thailand. However, they are likely to grant permission. There will be no problem. Now, no country can do anything because they're waiting for Thailand's decision.

"If our country allows it, it's possible that Nasa will hold the weather study mission from August to September," she said.

The government should create a clear system of considering and granting permission, she said, because Thais were worried about the issue. Then, the criteria would be clear and agencies from other countries that plan to do similar aircraft studies would know what they should do when requesting permission.

A German agency had also asked for permission to use an aircraft to fly in Thailand to study weather from August-September next year, she said.

"Vietnam's researchers last week proposed to researchers from Nasa to use the country's airport to carry out the SEAC4RS mission to study clouds and the climate. The proposal was presented at a meeting of 7-SEAS (Seven Southeast Asian Studies) in Taiwan, which is a project that involves the SEAC4RS," she said. "Nasa's researchers also asked me about Thailand's decision." Singapore also offered its airport for the SEAC4RS mission.


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