US talking to all sides in conflict: Kenney

national March 26, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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THE UNITED STATES has talked with all sides in the Thai political conflict and believes that the crisis will be handled by the country and Thais themselves, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney said yesterday.

In an exclusive interview with Nation Multimedia Group chairman Suthichai Yoon, Kenney said her country had talked to all sides involved in the current conflict, including business and academic figures.

The interview was delayed as the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters led by Suthep Thaugsuban were marching on the street in front of the embassy.

When asked how she viewed the PDRC protest, the US ambassador said it was a “peaceful protest”, and the people have the right to express themselves.

The US ambassador said she was unaware of the protesters’ criticism that she and the US government were biased in favour of the Thai government.

“It’s been a time of huge emotion. People have had very strong views, so I think sometimes people have been frustrated. One side or the other thinks the United States has not stepped up to support their side. In fact, we don’t take sides. But I think both sides hope [we take their side].”

Regarding some expressions of dissatisfaction that have been made against her, she said, “I am the ambassador. Sometimes when people are unhappy with the United States, they complained to me.”

Kenney said she has been very careful while talking about the protest. “However, it [has been] a time of strong emotion. So many people have very strong views and feel very passionately about the country and what should come next, and how [Thailand] should be governed.”

Kenney said the United States has issued several clear statements supporting the democratic process, freedom of expression and peaceful dialogue while calling on all sides to refrain from violence.

“We’ve expressed our support for freedom of expression and peaceful protest but I think for some people, that might not be enough. They may wish for more, depending on their view,” she said.

She said she agreed with US Secretary of State John Kerry that democracy consists of many elements, including the rule of law, transparency, strong institutions and an independent judiciary, besides the election, which she sees as an important factor.

The US ambassador said she and her team constantly meet with many groups of people. “We’ve talked in Thailand to all sides,” she said, refusing to say whether she had met protest leader Suthep.

Kenney has met caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. She denied that the US had played any role in trying to broker talks between the conflicting parties.

“I’ve met so many people and most of the time that is not public. Not just protesters or the government – we talked to universities, civil society, business leaders, and workers.”

Asked if the US was taking different stands toward protesters against elected governments in Thailand and Ukraine – where the US strongly supported protesters – the ambassador said: “First of all, I would never compare Ukraine and Thailand. Very different situation in Thailand, an independent nation, never colonised, unlike Ukraine, a newly independent nation really trying to figure out their role vis-a-vis Russia,” she said.

“In Ukraine, we also expressed our concerns at the occupation of public properties and at violence. So there are similarities but these are very different countries, different situations,” she said.

Asked whether she thinks Thailand is at the point where it needs an outsider to help solve the political problems, Kenney said she is optimistic about the situation in Thailand and she believes Thai people will be able to find a way for peaceful dialogue and solutions.

“This has to be solved by Thailand, by Thai people,” she said.

“People of all sides of the political perspective here have brought issues to life. These are useful and a good way to use peaceful protest to raise important issues that matter to citizens,” she said.

Kenney denied rumours earlier this year that she would be replaced. “My three-year [term] ended in January and I’ve been asked to stay longer by my government, probably until the end of the year,” she said.

Asked why, she replied, “My government is happy with my work here, and I’m happy being here,” she said. Asked if it was because the US government could not find any replacement, the ambassador said, “I’ll leave that to my president.”



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