U.S. official: Thailand turf not sought to fight terror
Stars and Stripes June 13, 2003
A U.S. Embassy official in Bangkok, Thailand, says recent news reports that the United States wants to lease vacant land in the eastern part of the Southeast Asian nation to fight terrorism are unfounded.
“I can say that the United States has no plans to establish a military base or to acquire land for that purpose in Thailand,” the spokesman said Wednesday, declining to provide his name.
The Nation, a daily published in Bangkok, reported Tuesday that the United States is seeking to use the land as a “forward position” to combat militant groups suspected of planning attacks in Southeast Asia.
The possible sites, according to the report, are near Sattahip naval base, south of Pattaya, and Utapao air base, 90 miles south of Bangkok in Chonburi and Rayong provinces.
“The U.S. has interests in every part of the world and strategically it needs facilities for force deployment to protect such interests,” Rear Adm. Yuttana Phagpolgnam, the director general of Thailand’s naval operations department, was quoted as saying.
A Pacific Command spokeswoman could neither confirm nor deny the story.
“We have no information on this,” Lt. Cmdr. Jensin Sommer told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday.
The Nation noted in the same report that Washington has made no formal approach on such plans.
An official with Thailand’s Defense Ministry said no one from the agency could comment until Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Chinnawat and his defense minister returned from the States on Friday. Chinnawat met with President Bush on Tuesday for talks on trade, money to fight AIDS and other topics.
Thailand’s quiet war on terrorism also may be on the table, according to the Boston Globe. Thailand officially was neutral while the United States and other nations waged war in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years, a point of contention with some in the Bush administration, says the Globe.
Terrorism at home is becoming a concern for tourism-driven Thailand, despite the Thai government’s repeated denials during the U.S. global war on terrorism that no terrorist groups were operating from Thai soil.
Three Thai Muslims were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks against five unnamed foreign embassies and resorts. The men reportedly had links with Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terrorist network blamed for last year’s bombings on the Indonesian island Bali that killed more than 200 people. The group is believed to be linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
Muslims are Thailand’s largest religious minority and are concentrated mostly in the country’s southernmost provinces.
Thailand and the United States have been staunch allies since shortly after World War II. The United States flew bombing missions from Utapao air base during the Vietnam War and Thailand, with its tropical climate, has long been a favorite leisure spot for American GIs.
Each May, thousands of U.S. troops train in Thailand’s annual Cobra Gold military exercise. About 1,500 U.S. servicemembers are currently in Thailand for the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise.