US embassy in Bangkok denies report saying US planning military depot in Thailand

BANGKOK - The United States embassy has denied a report saying the US plans to set up a military service depot in Thailand.

The Bangkok Post reported on Wednesday (Jan 3) that the US plans to set up a military arms maintenance centre in Thailand to supply and fix US armaments purchased by the Thai military.

The report said the issue was discussed at the latest defence strategic talks between the two countries at the Pentagon in Washington DC, citing a Thai defence ministry source who was at the meeting. The source told the paper the US had yet to specify where it wants the centre located.

The paper had reported that the meeting was held at the Pentagon last month, and was attended by Thailand's defence ministry permanent secretary Theppong Thippayachan. It was chaired by top Pentagon adviser for Asian and Pacific security affairs David Helvey.

However, Jillian Bonnardeaux, a spokesman for the embassy, said no such proposal had been made.

She told the paper that officials from both countries had discussed various forms of US-Thai defence cooperation during the meeting butthe establishment of the depot was not discussed.

She added that the US valued the cooperation between both countries and looked forward to holding the fifth edition of the talks later this year in Thailand.

"We are committed to continue building on our strong defence relationship with Thailand, a relationship based on our mutual security needs and shared commitment to regional security," she was quoted saying by the paper.

The annual talks were halted by the US after 2013, part of Washington's show of displeasure with the 2014 coup.

The paper's report on Thursday said the denial came even as "a source close to the matter" insisted the report was "credible and accurate".

The US had issued a brief press release on the meeting, which gave away little besides saying both sides reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen the 184-year-old US-Thai alliance.

According to the source, the US move to set up the centre came after China, Russia and Ukraine had also expressed an interest in doing the same, Bangkok Post said.

"Maintenance centres in Thailand would be considered advantageous for each of these countries, especially during negotiations regarding arms purchases between the respective parties," the source said. "The US has expressed concerns over the closer relationship between Thailand and China under the National Council for Peace and Order."

As of last October, the Royal Thai Army had 300 US-made battle tanks, 100 Stingray light tanks and 100 Scorpion tanks. It also acquired 20 tanks from Ukraine four years ago, Bangkok Post reported.

Earlier, the spokesman for the defence ministry, Mr Kongcheep Tantrawanit, said Thailand's and China's defence ministries agreed on a cooperation pact in September which would see an arms maintenance centre constructed in Khon Kaen and a warehouse built to store parts in Nakhon Ratchasima.

He said both projects were set for completion by next year.

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