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US cautions citizens in Thailand over martial law

The US State Department has cautioned American citizens in Thailand, following Tuesday's declaration of martial law. With pro- and anti-government protesters still on the streets, and uncertainty in the air, the US has advised its citizens to avoid large demonstrations or gatherings.

WASHINGTON: The US State Department has cautioned American citizens in Thailand, following Tuesday's declaration of martial law.

With pro- and anti-government protesters still on the streets, and uncertainty in the air, the US has advised its citizens to avoid large demonstrations or gatherings.

Washington said it is watching events on the ground closely.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “We expect the army to honour its commitment to make this a temporary action to prevent violence and not to undermine democratic institutions.

“The US firmly believes that all parties must exercise restraint and work together to resolve differences through peaceful dialogue to find a way forward. This development underscores the need for elections to determine the will of the Thai people.”

The Royal Thai Army - now in de facto charge of Thailand - has a close relationship with the Pentagon.

Every year, the Cobra Gold joint military exercise takes place in Thailand, involving thousands of US service personnel.

A Defence Department (DoD) official said just a few days ago in DC that said she had no reason to believe the Thai military would change its stance of not getting involved in the unrest:

Dr Amy Searight, deputy secretary of defence for South and Southeast Asia, said: “Of course we know that Thailand is in the middle of a political crisis. I want to reiterate that the US government respects Thailand's need to address its internal issues and find a path forward that works for the Thai people.

“But in the midst of the crisis, DoD really commends the Royal Thai Armed Forces' restraint and professionalism that they've shown throughout. It really demonstrates the evolution of Thai civil military relations in a positive direction.”

Experts said the timing of events in Bangkok was unexpected, but if the US does judge this a coup, more urgent and high level action is needed:

Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies Ernest Bower, from the Centre for Strategic & International Studies, said: “Really serious and sustained private diplomacy at a very high level - it's got to come from Washington.

“You can't just send the ambassador in with talking points - urging Thailand to help us understand what they're trying to do, what they're trying to achieve, and try to convince them to get back as soon as they possibly can, to elections.”

Treaty alliances in the Asia Pacific are fundamental, said the Obama administration, to its rebalancing to the region.

Thailand, at the core of ASEAN, is strategically important for US interests there, and the need to maintain good relations means the White House has a difficult tightrope to walk.

The State Department in Washington said it is following what is happening in Thailand closely, but it will not characterise this declaration of martial law as a coup yet.

Back in 2006, in response to the military coup that ousted a civilian prime minister, the US cut off almost US$24 million in aid.

The Obama administration appears reluctant, at the moment, to take any similar steps this time round.  


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