US plan to use U-Tapao needs no parliamentary approval

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BANGKOK, June 12 — The United States’ plan to use U-Tapao military airport to conduct atmospheric studies does not need parliament’s approval and will not affect Thailand’s national security, according to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Thani Thongphakdi.

Mr Thani, Department of Information Director-General, told the media that the ministry believed that the government’s decision to permit American agencies to use the U-Tapao Naval Base in Rayong and Chon Buri provinces did not involve Thai sovereignty so that it would not require parliamentary approval under Section 190 of the Constitution which stipulates that any international treaties and agreements must first be approved by parliament.

He said the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) requested to use U-Tapao airport to conduct atmospheric studies and the US Navy plan to use the Royal Thai Navy airfield as a multipurpose facility for humanitarian and disaster-relief operations were different projects.

The ministry spokesperson said the US space agency made a request to use U-Tapao airbase and facilities to carry out meteorological work involving studies of clouds that affected the climate conditions.

In 2001, NASA conducted a similar project using its aircraft to study atmosphere over Japan, Singapore and Costa Rica, he said, adding that the flights were aimed to sample atmosphere but not do aerial photography.

Mr Thani said NASA made the request in March to the Thai foreign ministry, security-related agencies, science and technology ministry and the agriculture ministry. The agencies initially concluded in their five meetings that the project could benefit Thailand and its neighbouring countries.

The Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives’ royal rainmaking project, would be the two major agencies to work with NASA.

NASA will request permission from Thailand for each flight. Thai aircraft and experts would also join the project and work closely with the US space agency, he said.

Flights would be over Cambodia, Singapore and international waters, he said, adding that no country in the region expressed concern over the project.

The project would last for only two months, August and September. Mr Thani said he believed that the experiments would help Thailand build a better disaster warning system.

As for the humanitarian and disaster-relief operations centre at U-Tapao, the spokesman said that the project was initiated by Thailand in 2010 during then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva when he attended the ASEAN-UN Summit. At that time, Thailand and other countries were suffering from natural disasters and Thailand was used as a centre to distribute relief assistance.

According to the initial study, the foreign ministry spokesperson said the project could benefit Thailand and neighbouring countries. The decision to proceed with the project, however, was not yet concluded as it was still being discussed.

U-Tapao was a base for US Air Force B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War. The airport was also a headquarters for humanitarian aid following the 2004 tsunami and in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008. It also serves as a logistics hub for the annual Cobra Gold joint military exercises.

Mr Thani said that the two projects were submitted to the cabinet for consideration and were on the waiting list to be included in the meeting’s agenda.