US plans to build military service depot in Thailand: Report

BANGKOK - The United States plans to set up a military arms maintenance centre in Thailand to supply and fix US armaments purchased by the Thai military, according to a Thai defence ministry source.

Although the US has not yet specified where it wants the centre located, the source revealed that the matter was discussed in the latest defence strategic talks between both countries, Bangkok Post reported on Wednesday (Jan 3).

The meeting was held at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, in late December, and was attended by Thailand's Defence Ministry permanent secretary Gen Theppong Thippayachan. It was chaired by top Pentagon adviser for Asian and Pacific security affairs, David Helvey, the report said.

The US side issued a brief press release on the meeting, which gave away little, it added.

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

"The Defence Strategic Talks were a culmination of a year of senior-level defence engagement between the United States and our oldest ally in Asia," last month's press release stated.

The three-paragraph release, which attracted little media attention, concluded with a general statement:

"Acting Assistant Secretary Helvey and General Theppong reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen the 184-year-old US-Thai alliance, and to hold the 5th Defence Strategic Talks next year in Thailand."

According to the ministry source, the US move 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.

Meanwhile, Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantrawanit earlier said a cooperation accord between Thailand and China's defence ministries had been agreed upon in September.

The agreement will see an arms maintenance centre constructed in Khon Kaen and a warehouse built to store parts in Nakhon Ratchasima. He said both projects are set for completion by 2019.