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Thai PM Faces Pressure to Pull Troops Out of Iraq - 2004-04-26


Thailand's government is coming under mounting pressure to withdraw its troops from Iraq as public fears increase about their safety. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says the troops will be brought home if they are attacked.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is facing increasing public pressure to pull its troops out of Iraq.

Mr. Thaksin has made troop safety a priority and has said the contingent of more than 440 soldiers would be called home if they were attacked.

Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sihasak Puangketkeow, says Thailand will take action if the situation in Iraq deteriorates.

?If the situation worsened to the extent that our personnel cannot leave their barracks, then that would be the trigger point for us with regard to the deployment of our troops,? he said.

Mr. Thaksin says he intends to halt further troop deployment once the current contingent completes its tour of duty later this year.

In December last year, two Thai soldiers were killed when a car bomb exploded near their base in the southern city of Karbala. After the deaths, Thai politicians and peace groups stepped up demands for troop withdrawal.

Last week the Thai senate debated a motion on the troop deployment and voted to keep Thai troops in Iraq. But Kraisak Choonhavan, a member of the senate subcommittee on foreign affairs, says the changing risk situation is making politicians and voters change their minds.

?The situation is that the Thai are there for humanitarian [reasons]. However, under very difficult conditions whereby hostility is very high. They cannot do their humanitarian activities effectively without risk. That is one reason why we think that Thai troops should be withdrawn,? Mr. Sihasak said.

A survey by a Thai university showed that 57 percent of those polled believed the Thai troops should be brought home. Only 22 percent thought they should continue as part of the U.S.-led coalition.

But Thai Defense Minister, General Chetta Thanajaro, has said the troops would stay in Iraq. He made the declaration after Poland reaffirmed that its troops would not be withdrawn. The Thai troops are under the protection of the Polish contingent in Iraq.

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