Singapore seeks clarification of
    Thai junta leader's remarks

  Agence France Presse
February 17, 2007

SINGAPORE wants Thailand to clarify remarks made by its junta leader that he plans to take back control of satellites run by a firm sold to the city-state's Temasek Holdings, the foreign ministry said.

"Singapore is surprised at what Council for National Security Chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin was reported to have said about getting back Thai national assets which have been sold to foreigners," a foreign ministry spokesman said late Friday, Feb 16.

"We should wait for the Thai Government to clarify what those remarks meant."

Sonthi, who led last year's military coup that ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has described the telecom satellites as "national assets" that should revert back to Thai control.

In a controversial deal last year, Thaksin sold his family's stake in telecom giant Shin Corp to the Singapore state-linked investment firm.

Shin Corp's subsidiary Shin Satellite operates four telecom satellites owned by the Thai government.

"Singapore is a small country that lacks any farming area, but they are rich capitalists and brokers who can buy our assets," Sonthi told a gathering of military and government officials in Bangkok on Friday.

"I am concerned about our national assets that were bought. I want my assets back, especially the satellites. That's one of our treasures that I really want.

"That's what we have to think about, how we can retrieve our assets."

Sonthi has previously voiced fears that Singapore would use the satellites to spy on Thailand, and has ordered military officials to give up their cell phones in favor of walkie-talkies to prevent any espionage.

Singapore has strongly denied eavesdropping on its neighbour and fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Shin Corp was founded by Thaksin, whose family sold its shares in the firm to Temasek in a 1.9 billion dollar, tax-free deal, sparking street protests that precipitated the bloodless September 2006 coup.

Since the deal, relations between Singapore and Thailand have been badly strained -- especially since Thaksin visited the city-state last month and met with S. Jayakumar, one of two deputy prime ministers.

Singapore has said it was a purely private meeting between old friends.