Thai senate votes to maintain troops in Iraq despite mounting danger
BANGKOK: Thailand’s senate voted to maintain the kingdom’s 451 troops in Iraq despite mounting danger and withdrawal announcements by at least three countries from the US-led coalition, a senator said on Wednesday.
“The vote was 68 to 50 which means that my motion (to pull Thai troops from Iraq) failed,” Karoon Sai-Ngam, the senator who sponsored the motion, told AFP about the closed door session late Tuesday. Thailand’s upper house, where a group of senators has pushed for the troop withdrawal, consists of 200 members, but only 124 attended the session, with six abstentions. Karoon argued that many senators merely went along with the will of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who ordered the deployment of a contingent of engineers, medics and a surveillance platoon to Iraq last September after remaining neutral during the invasion of Iraq. The troops, stationed at Camp Lima in the central city of Karbala and part of the multinational force under Polish command, were ordered last week to hunker down at the base as the security situation worsened.
Despite the senate vote, it is the prime minister who makes the ultimate decision about the deployment. Karoon said he was disheartened by the vote and questioned Thaksin’s judgment in keeping Thai troops in the war-ravaged nation.
“The government was so stubborn and did not listen to anybody, but we will keep asking them from time to time over the withdrawal of the troops,” Karoon said.
Thaksin on Tuesday warned that Thai troops would be withdrawn from Iraq if the situation there becomes so dangerous that they are unable to carry out their mission.
Defence Minister Chettha Thanajaro stressed that the decision over Thailand’s commitment to the coalition would not be influenced by outside pressure.
“We will independently consider Thailand’s stance without any pressure or criticism from any interest groups, because this is about our country’s dignity and sovereignty,” Chettha told reporters.
Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, Thailand’s deputy prime minister who oversees security matters, admitted that Thai involvement in Iraq was linked to a spate of violence in Thailand’s Muslim south, where separatists have killed more than 100 people this year. —AFP