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US Pledges Support, Flood Aid to Thailand

  • Daniel Schearf

Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra shows U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) the way during their meeting at the Government House in Bangkok November 16, 2011.

Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra shows U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) the way during their meeting at the Government House in Bangkok November 16, 2011.

The United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged support in Bangkok for Thailand's political reconciliation efforts and announced more than $10 million in aid for flood relief. The show of support came as Thai media reported the government is seeking amnesty for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a divisive leader who is living in exile to avoid corruption charges.

Clinton reaffirmed backing Wednesday for Thailand and the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shiniwatra as it is contending with its worst flooding in decades.

Hundreds have been killed, tens of thousands forced to flee their homes, and a quarter of the country swamped.

After arriving in Bangkok in the late afternoon for a short visit on her way to Indonesia, Clinton announced an additional $10 million of direct aid, materials, and training for flood relief.

She said a major focus of the aid package was to help Thai authorities to re-open Bangkok's Don Muang airport. It is the second most important airport and was originally the base for flood relief operations, but was itself flooded and had to be shut down.

Clinton spoke at a joint press conference after a half hour meeting with Ms. Yingluck and expressed support for her administration.

“I recognize, that these floods pose an early and serious challenge to the new Thai government and to the hard won peace that the Thai people achieved after the political violence that you have endured in recent years," said Clinton. "The United States stands firmly behind the civilian government of Thailand and the work it is doing to consolidate strong democratic institutions, ensure good governance, guarantee the rule of law, and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Clinton said Thailand also can count on U.S. support for the country's political reconciliation process, calling it critical to Thailand's long term stability and security.

Thailand has been in political turmoil since the military in 2006 ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, from power sparking sometimes violent protests between his opponents and supporters.

Last year clashes in Bangkok between the military and Thaksin-supporting Red Shirts left 90 people dead, most of them civilians.

The country has calmed down somewhat since then and an election this year that brought the Thaksin-supporting Pheu Thai party and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra to power. Prime Minister Yingluck on Wednesday called the election a return to democracy in Thailand.

“With reconciliation and stabilities, good governance and transparence, universally acceptable rule of law, I believe we are regaining the confidence of Thai people and the world,” said Yingluck.

But critics maintain Prime Minister Yingluck is merely a puppet of her brother, who fled the country in 2008 to avoid a jail term for corruption charges.

Thai media Wednesday reported the government planned to seek a general amnesty for convicts next month that would allow Thaksin to return home without serving a sentence.

Thaksin's return to Thailand could spark another round of turmoil and anti-government protests.

Prime Minister Yingluck declined to comment directly on the reports, saying only that any amnesty would have to comply with the law and apply to everyone equally.