Thai officials 'disappointed' at US diplomat's comments on Yingluck impeachment

Thai Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn (left) talks with US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel (right) at the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok on Jan 26, 2015. Thailand has expressed disappointment at the recent comments made by a top Un
Thai Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn (left) talks with US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel (right) at the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok on Jan 26, 2015. Thailand has expressed disappointment at the recent comments made by a top United States diplomat on the impeachment of ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra. -- PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK - Thailand has expressed disappointment at the recent comments made by a top United States diplomat on the impeachment of ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thai Deputy Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said the statements by US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Mr Daniel Russel amounted to interference in its domestic political situation.

Mr Russel, the most senior US official to visit the country since the coup, had said after a meeting with Ms Shinawatra on Monday that her impeachment could be perceived as "politically driven".

"When an elected leader is deposed, impeached by the authorities that implemented the coup, and then targeted with criminal charges while basic democratic processes and institutions are interrupted, the international community is left with the impression that these steps could be politically driven," he said in a speech delivered at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

Mr Russel stressed that the US was not picking sides in Thai politics but advocating a "more inclusive political process".

Thais felt that Mr Russel's statement were "wounding", Mr Don told reporters on Wednesday.

"Instead of taking opportunity to say something good, particularly the promotion of good bilateral relations, he (Russel) talked about domestic politics which is not useful and has tarnished Thailand's image," Mr Don was quoted by The Nation as saying.

Since seizing power the military has suspended democracy and curtailed freedom of expression in the kingdom, responding aggressively to any form of protest. Under martial law, political gatherings are banned.

Washington suspended US$4.7 million (S$ 6.3 million) in security-related aid to Thailand, roughly half of its annual assistance to the longtime ally, after the military takeover, AFP reported.

It had also considered moving annual military exercises outside the kingdom but later said the US would go-ahead with a "scaled-down" version of the Cobra Gold joint drills, which begin next month.

A US embassy spokeswoman confirmed that Russel did not meet junta leader Prayuth Chan-OCha, who was appointed Thai premier after the coup, during his official visit.

Mr Prayuth also lauched a rebuttal of Mr Russel's statement saying that the coup was staged to save democracy, and that lifting of the martial law would lead to political disturbances.

"Although this goverment came from a seizure of power, it happened because there was no (effective) government (at the time)," Mr Prayuth was quoted by The Nation as saying.

He said envoys from 21 countries had met with the current administration and understood the situation in Thailand. He said he was also ready to present himself before the United Nations General Assembly in September to explain the situation to the world.