US Dismisses Thai Army's Claim Of American 'Understanding'

Anti-coup protesters confront soldiers in Bangkok, 25 May 2014

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. 

The Royal Thai Army is known to have made misleading statements in the past. For instance, it insisted on 16 May that martial law would only be invoked as last resort if large-scale unrest broke out in Thailand. Less than a week later, the army imposed martial law even though ther had been no escalation in violence. 

In the same press conference earlier today, Col. Winthai dismissed concerns over the US government's cut in military aid,  stating that Thai officials have informed Americans that the two countries are different.

"Democracy in our country led to losses," Col. Winthai told reporters.