BANGKOK — The US Embassy in Bangkok has disputed an army spokesman’s claim that a top US Navy commander expressed his “understanding” to the Thai military junta that staged a coup d’etat last week.
In a press conference this morning, a Thai army spokesman said that US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry Harris phoned army chief and coup-leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to tell him he “understood” the situation in Thailand.
“The American commander understood the situation because he is also a soldier,” said army spokesman Col. Winthai Suwaree. “But the US and Thai governments have different opinions, in the aspect of idea and rules. It’s a matter of international politics.”
“The commander also understood that in order to restore order in the country, there has to be a sustained orderliness, not a temporary one,” Col. Winthai added.
But only several hours after Col. Winthai’s remarks were published by the pro-establishment Thai newspaper The Nation, the US Embassy in Bangkok posted on twitter that the news was “completely false.”
“There has been no call from the US Pacific Fleet,” the US Embassy tweeted. In a follow up message, the US Embassy urged the public to “beware false reports regarding alleged statements. The US remains concerned by [the Thai coup] and calls for immediate return to democracy.”
The alleged phone conversation with the US Pacific Fleet Commander had strongly contradicted the US government’s official stance on the coup in Thailand. The US cut military aid to Thailand almost immediately after Gen. Prayuth seized power, and US Secretary of State John Kerry sharply criticised the Thai military takeover, calling it unjustified. Reported in the Khaosod News
According to the Bangkok Post the US Army’s top general has called Thailand’s army chief, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, to urge a return to “democratic principles” after the Thai military seized control of the government in a coup, the Pentagon said.
The Pentagon described the call between General Raymond Odierno, chief of staff of the US Army, and Gen Prayuth as constructive and added he believed the conversation took place late on Thursday.
The general made it clear that we certainly expect a return to democratic principles in Thailand just as soon as possible,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm John Kirby said.
Asked why the call was made by Gen Odierno, who was the first US military official to have direct contact with Gen Prayuth since the coup, Rear Adm Kirby said: “The Thai army chief, the one who announced that they were suspending the constitution, is in effect Gen Odierno’s counterpart.”
“So it just made sense that he would be the one to have that conversation.”
The United States swiftly condemned the coup on Thursday and has said it is reviewing its aid to Thailand. On Friday, the US State Department said it had already suspended about $3.5 million in military aid, including a portion for training.
The State Department also recommended on Friday that US citizens reconsider any non-essential travel to Thailand, particularly Bangkok, due to the ongoing unrest.
The United States has about 700 marines and sailors in Thailand for military drills that had been slated to run through May 27. Rear Adm Kirby said the US forces were still in Thailand.
He acknowledged that the drills had not yet been cancelled but it was unclear to what extent actual training may have been affected by the unrest.
Speaking broadly about ties with Thailand, Rear Adm Kirby noted that “this is a military that we have a longstanding relationship with, going well back in United States history.”
“And it’s a military-to-military relationship that we still believe is important,” Rear Adm Kirby said.
“But circumstances are different in Thailand, and this was a conversation that needed to happen.”