SIDNEY – Australia downgraded its ties with Thailand on Saturday in the wake of this month’s military coup, imposing a travel ban on the junta leaders and cutting defence co-operation in some of the toughest punitive measures taken by a foreign government.
The US and other foreign governments have condemned the May 22 coup, calling for a rapid return to democracy.
The Australian government said it had postponed three activities with the Thai military and would prevent the leaders of the coup from traveling to Australia as it continued to have “grave concerns” about the military’s actions in Thailand.
“In line with our concerns, Australia is reducing our engagement with the Thai military and will lower the level of our interaction with the Thai military leadership,” Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop and defense minister David Johnston said in a joint statement.
Coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Friday there would be no elections for at least a year, arguing reforms must come first. Reforms could only be implemented if there was peace and stability and that would take about a year, he said.
“The Australian government continues to call on the military to set a pathway for a return to democracy and the rule of law as soon as possible, to refrain from arbitrary detentions, to release those detained for political reasons and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the statement said.
Thailand and Australia’s military ties date back to 1945 and the countries have engaged in a formal defense co-operation program that involves individual training and maritime, ground and air exercises for the past four decades.
The countries also have a free trade agreement, entered into in 2005.
The Australian government said it looked forward to “normalizing our relationship as soon as possible”, but added it would continue to “review defense and other bilateral activities”.