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Thai Junta Defends Itself From U.S. Criticism Over Its Decision to Give Police Powers to Soldiers

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A spokesman for Thailand’s junta has hit back at criticism from Washington, insisting that military officers in the country should have powers usually reserved for the police.

The generals who seized power in a coup almost two years ago have drafted a new constitution and say they plan finally to hold elections. But the draft charter, issued on March 29, would allow the military to retain a degree of control over future elected governments, and also included a controversial measure to give soldiers ranked sublieutenant and higher the power to summon, arrest and detain people suspected of anything from crimes against public peace to gambling.

Army officers will also be allowed to seize assets and search some properties without warrants.

Junta spokesman Major General Sansern Kaewkamnerd told the Bangkok Post that the measure was needed to support police in cracking down on “mafia” and “influential crime figures.”

Human-rights groups say the powers would lead to more restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association in the country, where the military government has already been stamping out dissent.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman for East Asia, Katina Adams, on Monday called on Thailand’s generals to “limit the role of the military in internal policing and allow civilian authorities to carry out their duties,” the Associated Press reported.

Sansern rejected the U.S. getting involved in domestic affairs, and said Washington was being misled by “public-relations companies” hired by unnamed parties to denigrate the Thai government, the Bangkok Post said.

[Bangkok Post, AP]

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Write to Simon Lewis at simon_daniel.lewis@timeasia.com