US says ‘scaled-down’ military drills to go ahead in Thailand

11:09:00 PM
BANGKOK, -- The United States said Saturday a “scaled-down” version of annual military exercises in Thailand will go ahead next year, after mulling moving the drills outside the kingdom in response to an army coup.

Washington suspended $4.7 million in security-related aid to Thailand, roughly half of its annual assistance to the longtime ally, after the Thai military seized power from an elected government in May.

In June the United States said it was also considering moving next year’s Cobra Gold joint military drills – the largest US multilateral exercise in the Asia-Pacific – outside of Thailand due to junta rule.

But on Saturday a US Embassy spokeswoman confirmed the annual war games would go ahead.

“We are proceeding with a refocused and scaled-down Cobra Gold 2015 exercise… In light of the current political situation, the US government has increased its focus on non-lethal activities, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” she said.

The drills bring together thousands of troops from the US, Thailand and other countries for field training, with the 2014 exercises held in February drawing some 13,000 participants.

The spokeswoman added that military aid to Thailand will remain suspended “until a democratically elected government takes office”.

The United States has strongly condemned Thailand’s military takeover and urged military rulers to restore democracy in the country.

Junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha says he was forced to seize power after months of protests left nearly 30 dead and hundreds more wounded, paralysing ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration and cramping the kingdom’s once-dynamic economy.

But critics say the coup was orchestrated to remove the influence of Yingluck’s older brother and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a coup eight years ago.

Thailand’s long-running political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite, backed by parts of the military and judiciary, against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin.

The United States and Thailand have held the joint Cobra Gold exercises since 1980.

In recent years it has become a key element of a US strategy to pivot power to Asia amid concerns by several nations over China’s rise.

Amphibious assault joint military exercise Cobra Gold 2014 at a military base in Chonburi province, Thailand, 14 Febuary 2014.

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