Pubdate: Wed, 05 Mar 2003
Source: Nation, The (Thailand)
Copyright: 2003 Nation Multimedia Group


Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra admitted yesterday that he had
over-reacted when he said the United Nations, which is keeping an eye on the
government's controversial anti-drug crusade, was not his father.

The prime minister said provocative media questions were partly to blame for
the comment and as a result he would be making himself less accessible to
reporters from now on.

"The prime minister told the Cabinet that he could have been over-reacting a
little bit when he said: 'The UN is not my father'," said government
spokesman Sita Divari. "But nowadays reporters want him to respond to
something or someone all the time. He has only been asked about political
issues, with virtually no questions at all concerning exactly what the
government is doing for the people."

Thaksin made the "father" jibe when asked to respond to reports that a
special UN envoy would be dispatched to gather information about the
fast-rising death toll in the war on drugs. "The United Nations is not my
father," he said. "I'm not worried about any UN visit to Thailand on this
issue. A UN envoy can come any time to make observations."

The comment followed others in which the prime minister showed that he was
becoming increasingly annoyed with international critics of his government's
anti-drug policy. But Monday's comment has prompted warnings that he needs
to restrain himself.

"Like it or not, a nation's 'sovereignty' in today's world is not the same
as it was," said Chulalongkorn political scientist Panithan Watthanayakorn.
"Being a democratic society, Thailand must allow international organisations
to investigate the state of human rights, and this should not be perceived
as a violation of Thai sovereignty."

He added that the international community "must have been amazed" by
Thaksin's reaction to calls for a guarantee of human rights in the war on

A source said Thaksin had been told during yesterday's Cabinet meeting that
Pradit Charoenthaitawee, a member of the National Human Rights Commission,
had jumped the gun by announcing that a UN special envoy would be dispatched
to Thailand. Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai informed the prime
minister that Pradit had merely issued an invitation while attending a UN
workshop in Pakistan and had not received a definite reply, the source said.

Sita said Thaksin would in future avoid answering reporters' questions that
might trigger a war of words.

"The prime minister doesn't want to give interviews about politics. He wants
a Government House free from political questions," Sita said. "He has said
that he wants to draw a clear line between political affairs and the
country's affairs. Interviews at Government House should involve [the
latter], such as a trip by him to a foreign country," Sita added.

He said that from now on Government House reporters would be asked to submit
their questions for the prime minister to the Government Spokesman's Office.

The premier may reply to the questions himself or assign any of his deputies
to do so if they are relevant to their duties, the spokesman said, and will
call a press conference if he wanted the media to know anything.

"If it's about the country's affairs, he's more than happy to talk. But
reporters only ask political questions. When he recently visited China,
instead of reporting on economic cooperation, the press picked on claims
that he had broken diplomatic protocol," Sita said, referring to a report on
Thaksin commenting publicly on the taboo subject of China's leadership

Thaksin avoided reporters all day yesterday. During a brief encounter at
Government House, he waved them off, saying sternly: "No political comment.
Wait for a wrap-up [in my radio programme] on Saturday."

Pradit meanwhile repeated his calls for Thaksin to heed criticism of the
anti-drug policy.

"When Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat ordered executions of alleged criminals
in public, people hailed his 'decisiveness'. But what's his place in history
now? This prime minister is walking down the same path to dictatorship under
the guise of nationalism. Good leadership cannot part company with good
morals. With complaints flooding in from all over the country, the
government needs to stop and listen," Pradit said.
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