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Western diplomats deny Thai accusation of protocol breach

BANGKOK (AP) — Western diplomatic missions responded Wednesday to charges from Thailand’s foreign ministry that they violated protocol by observing a Thai politician being charged by police with sedition, calling their action standard diplomatic practice.

They were responding to Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, who said Tuesday that foreign countries are barred from closely observing such internal procedures “not only by etiquette, but also by rules and regulations that the whole world abides by.” His ministry on Wednesday accused the diplomats of intervening in Thai politics.

Thirteen foreign diplomats were present Saturday at a Bangkok police station where Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of a popular new political party, acknowledged charges of sedition and other crimes. Thanathorn says the charges are politically motivated.

Thanathorn’s Future Forward Party ran a strong third in last month’s general election and positions itself as being opposed to political interference by Thailand’s powerful military. Several criminal complaints and protests to election authorities have already been lodged against Thanathorn and his party.

The election results are to be certified by May 9, and the contending parties are maneuvering to establishing alliances or have opponents disqualified.

The Thai foreign minister on Tuesday had complained informally, but his ministry on Wednesday issued a diplomatic note “to register our displeasure and concern.”

It charged that the diplomats’ action violated an article in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that says diplomats “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of the nation in which they are stationed.

It said their presence at the police station “with such a visibility and the publicity it generated were clearly an act of political significance, seen by the Thai public largely as a show of moral support to Mr. Thanathorn.”

“In other words, it was a political act or a political statement on the part of the Embassies,” it said. “It clearly amounted to the Embassies choosing to be a player in Thai domestic politics, at least by having taken side in the country’s political landscape.”

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Jillian Bonnardeaux said U.S. Charge d’Affaires Peter Haymond met Wednesday with a senior foreign ministry official at the ministry’s request.

“The U.S. Embassy regularly attends court proceedings in high profile cases around the world in order to observe fair trial guarantees and respect for rule of law,” she said in an emailed statement. “This is a standard diplomatic practice. The U.S. interest in this case, as in many other cases, is to observe the judicial process and obtain first-hand information about the handling of the case.”

A statement from the European Union delegation to Thailand made a similar point, saying, “Observation of hearings and trials is standard diplomatic practice worldwide. Its purpose is to enhance understanding of adherence to international standards such as human rights and due process.”

“Such observations are in no way indications of political preference or support for specific actors,” it said.

The EU statement thanked the Thai police for their cooperation “in facilitating the observation and for offering to brief the diplomats present.”

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