Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thai FM Noppadon resigns

Burmese Military Dictators' Supporter Thai FM Noppadon Resigns

Thailand's foreign minister said Monday he hoped Myanmar's upcoming referendum on a new constitution would be "credible", on the eve of a visit by the country's prime minister.

Noppadon Pattama said the neighbours may discuss the referendum, which Myanmar's military rulers say will pave the way for elections in 2010, during General Thein Sein's visit.

"The democracy process could be brought up at the talks as Thailand wants the May 10 referendum to be successful and credible," Noppadon told reporters.

"We want to see Myanmar on a good development track."


Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama resigned to show his spirit on Thursday - but said defiantly that events will show that he and the ministry staff handled the Preah Vihear temple issue perfectly.

"Time will prove that I and the Foreign Ministry have done what is right. I am not a nation-seller. I am as patriotic as all Thai people. I have not caused damage to the country," he said.

Earlier, the Democrats began a process to impeach Mr Noppadon in parliament. It was not clear if that effort would be dropped in light of the resignation.

Out on the street, core leader Maj-Gen Chamlong Srimuang of the People's Alliance for Democracy demanded the entire government resign. The minister may have quit to take responsibility but the whole cabinet was to blame, he said.

Mr Noppadon quit just hours after he returned from Canada, where he attended the meeting of Unesco which approved Cambodia's application to declare Preah Vihear temple a World Heritage Site. While he was absent, on Tuesday, the Constitution Court ruled that he had violated the constitution by signing a joint communique backing the Cambodian government without first submitting the document to parliament for approval.

"Although I didn't do anything wrong, I would like to show my spirit and take responsibility by stepping down from foreign minister post," he said at a press conference held at mid-afternoon on Thursday, and broadcast nationwide on Army TV Channel 5.

The resignation takes effect on Monday.

He was not humbled by events. He insisted he did done the right thing by supporting the Cambodian application. He respected the Constitution Court's verdict but felt the entire issue was debatable.

He insisted he did not cause Thailand to lose sovereignty over the disputed area around the temple: "I did not sell the country and did not cause any damage to it."

The only thing he was truly sorry for, he said, was that the issue had been used to instigate conflict between Thailand and Cambodia, and to wrongfully arouse nationalistic sentiments in the country.

He also got in criticism of his more radical opponents, saying they had even harassed his sister at her home in Nakhon Ratchasima.

"I am resigning to show my spirit," he said, "so that the government can concentrate on solving people’s problems."

He had indirect support from Army commander Anupong Paojinda, who said that he felt the only way to face any problems with Cambodia over the temple issue was through peaceful negotiatons.

He rejected calls by nationalists to oust Cambodian vendors in the disputed area around the actual temple, on the grounds that it is Thai territory. He said the area is in dispute, and legal and international relations mechanisms should be used. There are better ways to deal with the problem than simply to use armed force against the Cambodians.

In parliament on Thursday morning, opposition whip Sathit Wongnongtoey began formal impeachment proceedings against Mr Noppadol by handing a letter to Senate Speaker Prasobsuk Boondech.

Mr Sathit said Mr Noppadon had violated the constitution, and "shoulc have used his common sense in considering how much his own actions affected society," he said.

That was before Mr Noppadon resigned, and it was not known if the Democrats will continue to press the issue. Probably they will; Mr Sathit said he plans to seek the removal of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej for the same violation of Article 190 of the constitution.

At the Makkhawan Rangsan Bridge, Day 47 of the PAD demonstration was under way, and Maj-Gen Chamlong seemed happy.

The rally will continue indefinitely, he said. He called Mr Noppadon's resignation just one of 17 political victories by the protesters, and he said they will not stop before the government is brought down.

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