Thailand defends its diplomatic actions against Singapore

  Associated Press
January 17, 2007
BANGKOK, Thailand

By SUTIN WANNBOVORN

THAILAND'S military-installed government Wednesday, Jan 17, defended its diplomatic slaps at Singapore as a "prudent" response to the city-state's hospitality toward ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thailand's Foreign Ministry had summoned the Singaporean ambassador on Tuesday to explain why Thaksin, deposed in a Sept 19 coup, recently met with Singapore's deputy prime minister.

Unsatisfied by the response, Thailand then withdrew an invitation to Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo, suspended an exchange program of civil servants and warned Singapore to be "more cautious" in the future.

A front-page story in the Bangkok Post newspaper called Thailand's steps "the strongest protest against a foreign government in recent history."

Government spokesman Yongyuth Maiyalarb called the measures "appropriate," saying that the two countries had spoken about Thaksin's wish to meet the city-state's deputy prime minister, and that Thailand had objected.

"The point is not that Mr. Thaksin traveled to this or that country. Mr Thaksin has the right to travel," Yongyuth said. "The point is that he met with a high-level leader of the Singaporean government."

"The issue is politically sensitive for Thailand," he said. "We had talked to them already about this issue, but then it still happened."

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said that Thai officials had informed Singapore of its recent decision to revoke Thaksin's diplomatic passport and that he was under investigation in a number of corruption cases.

"The Foreign Ministry made prudent considerations before taking these actions," he told reporters, in response to questions over whether the government had acted rashly.

Deputy Prime Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula played down the diplomatic measures, and said they would not effect overall relations with Singapore.

Thaksin met with Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Shunmugam Jayakumar during one of many trips Thaksin has taken in Asia since his ouster.

Coup leaders say his trips are politically motivated and have shown growing jitters over his travels, which have included visits to China, Hong Kong and Indonesia.

Singapore defended the visit there as a private meeting between old friends. Its Foreign Ministry issued a statement late Tuesday saying it was "saddened" by Thailand's actions.

"The Thai Government did not notify us that Dr Thaksin has been charged for any offense. There is also no restriction on where he can travel to. He had chosen to make a visit to Singapore on his own," a Foreign Ministry statement said. "Prior to Singapore, Dr Thaksin had also visited several other countries without any protest by the Thai government."

Thaksin is at the heart of another sensitive issue for Thailand and Singapore.

Thailand and Singapore have been embroiled in a dispute over the takeover of Thailand's largest telecommunications company, Shin Corp., by the Singapore government's investment arm, Temasek Holdings Pte Ltd., in January 2006.

Thaksin's family sold the company to Temasek in a widely controversial deal that is currently under investigation in Thailand. A probe is examining if the deal was carried out illegally, using nominees to get around foreign ownership laws.

Many Thais were also angered that the US$2.1 billion (1.55 billion) deal was not taxed and placed strategic assets, including communications satellites, in the hands of foreigners.

Protests over the sale fueled calls for Thaksin to resign.

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