US cuts off millions in military aid to Thailand
WASHINGTON - The United States cut off millions of dollars in military assistance to its ally Thailand on Thursday, in response to the military coup that ousted civilian prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the State Department said.
"In response to the military coup on September 19 in Thailand, the United States has suspended almost 24 million dollars of assistance to the Thai government," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
He said the aid cutoff involved foreign military financing, international military education and training, and peacekeeping operations.
"The United States continues to urge a rapid return to democratic rule and early elections in Thailand," McCormack said.
"We look forward to being able to reinstate these programs after a democratically-elected government takes office," he said.
The Thai military has enjoyed years of close ties to US armed forces in the Asia-Pacificregion.
The United States, which has also forged close anti-terror ties with Thailand, had previously condemned the coup and called on the ruling generals to call elections before their one-year deadline.
Official US military trips to Thailand had previously been suspended and all temporary defense duties in Thailand frozen, according to Stars and Stripes, a daily newspaper published for the US military.
US military personnel in Thailand on temporary orders have been recalled, it said.
The White House has also hinted that so far inconclusive talks with Bangkok on a free trade agreement might also depend on a return to democratic rule.
Thailand's military rulers said earlier Thursday they had selected a new prime minister to be unveiled at the weekend, but refused to say when they would lift martial law and pull troops off the streets.
Thailand is a key US diplomatic and non-NATO ally and has been a voice for democracy in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which also includes several totalitarian states.
The fate was also unclear of the next annual "Cobra Gold" live-fire exercise, the largest US war games in Asia, which the United States hosts along with Thailand.
The exercises, launched 25 years ago and originally limited to US and Thai troops, has been expanded in recent years to include an anti-terror component.
It was not clear if next year's operation would be affected by the coup.
Thailand has also played an important role in the US "war on terror" launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Hambali, leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiya, was captured in the country in August 2003.
But Thailand has denied reports in the US media that it was one of the sites for the CIA's secret prisons, now emptied, for top Al-Qaeda suspects.
In recent weeks, the United States had registered concern at an insurgency raging in the Muslim-majority south of the mainly Buddhist kingdom, fearing it could feed into Southeast Asia's Al-Qaeda-linked terror networks.