Bangkok Post, 18 Jan 2007

Army chief Sonthi Boonyaratkalin is considering reviewing and possibly cancelling a contract for Singapore to use a military training base in Kanchanaburi if the city-state fails to cooperate on the issue of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a highly-placed source said. Singapore would be seriously concerned about a termination of the contract, as it is a small island country without space for military training, the source added. The island republic has been paying to use the military camp in Kanchanaburi province for at least 20 years.

The source added Singapore’s army has signed an agreement to use the camp for a joint military exercise, known as ”Crescendo”, with its Thai counterparts in Kanchanaburi. The ongoing exercise, which is organised every three years, will end in July.

The disclosure came amid a souring of relations following Singapore’s recent reception of Mr Thaksin.

Gen Sonthi, who led the coup that ousted Mr Thaksin, yesterday blasted the ousted premier’s family for selling their telecommunications business to Singapore, saying it could pose a threat to national security.

”The army is also in trouble. Our communications and information sent over mobile phones or via satellite could appear in Singapore,” he said.

”Although Singapore is not our enemy, we are economic rivals. They could be informed of secrets in the army and in the economic sector.”

Gen Sonthi, who is also chairman of the Council for National Security, said the army would adopt certain measures to deal with Singapore. But he promised they would be subtle, and not include a boycott of bilateral military cooperation.

The two countries have maintained cordial military relations, and the army has been trying to keep politics out of military affairs, he added.

CNS spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd said CNS members had expressed concern over the issue at their meeting yesterday .

A source said ACM Chalit Phukphasuk, CNS deputy chief, would use the current joint military exercise to express Thailand’s concern.

Singapore is paying up to a billion baht a year for the use of the army camp in Sai Yok district. The contract is renewed every 10 years.

The Thaksin government also allowed Singapore to lease part of Wing 23 air base in Udon Thani for military flight training.

Former foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan, currently a legislator, cautioned that diplomatic friction could get out of hand.

He raised concerns over possible complications from excessive patriotism, which could be generated by the Singapore issue.

Surachart Bamrungsuk, a security expert at Chulalongkorn University, was critical of the suspension of a civil service exchange programme and retraction of the invitation to Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo.

The response showed the government ”was overly concerned” with Mr Thaksin’s movements.

Thailand had never before resorted to such retaliation, which showed that Asean members were unable to settle disputes through dialogue, Mr Surachart added.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said the Foreign Ministry’s response had been carefully considered.

Government spokesman Yongyuth Mayalarb emphasised that other cooperation programmes with Singapore would continue.

Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the so-called ”personal matter” brought up during talks between Singapore Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar and Mr Thaksin concerned business which would have adverse repercussions for Thailand.

He called on the Surayud government to explain its response to Singapore in terms of facts and principles.