Bangkok (AFP) – Thailand’s junta chief said Wednesday he was “upset” by comments from a senior US diplomat during a recent visit criticising the military regime, as Washington’s top envoy in Bangkok was summoned for a meeting with Thai officials.
On Monday US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel urged Thailand’s generals to implement a “more inclusive political process” after meeting ousted former premier Yingluck Shinawatra.
He added that moves against Yingluck since the military takeover – which have included a retroactive impeachment by the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, and corruption charges – could be perceived as being “politically driven”.
But the visit and Russel’s decision to meet Yingluck have hit a raw nerve with Thailand’s junta rulers, who took over in a May coup strongly condemned by Washington.
“I have instructed the foreign ministry to convey the message that we are upset over the comments and that they (the US) have not understood how we work,” junta chief and premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha told reporters Wednesday, placing his right hand on his heart as he spoke.
His comments were echoed by Deputy Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai who said Russel had “wounded the hearts of many Thai people”, adding that he had “invited” the current head of Washington’s embassy in Bangkok – Charges d’Affaires W Patrick Murphy – to talk about the visit.
The military’s takeover of Thailand – which has been accompanied by martial law, a ban on political protests and severe curtailments on free expression – has strained Washington’s relationship with its longtime ally.
The US suspended $4.7 million in security-related aid to Thailand, roughly half of its annual assistance to the kingdom, following the coup.
Last week Yingluck was impeached by a junta-stacked parliament, meaning an automatic five-year ban from politics, and prosecutors announced corruption charges that could see her jailed for 10 years.
During a speech at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Russel – the most senior US official to visit Thailand since the coup – said “the perception of fairness is important” while stressing the US was not taking sides in Thai politics.
“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.