US cuts more Thailand aid, considers moving exercises

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The United States said it has suspended more assistance to Thailand in response to a military coup and was considering moving a major regional exercise out of the kingdom.

Washington has blocked $4.7 million in security-related aid to Thailand, which accounts for roughly half of its $10.5 million in annual assistance to the longtime ally, State Department official Scot Marciel yesterday said in testimony to Congress.

The United States swiftly rebuked Thailand's military after it defied warnings not to intervene in the political chaos. The State Department announced that it had frozen $3.5 million a day after the May 22 coup.

The additionally suspended assistance has included a US-sponsored firearms training program for the Thai police and a study trip to the United States for senior Thai police officers, another US official said.

Marciel said that the United States was also considering moving next year's Cobra Gold -- one of the largest US military exercises and a key element in the US strategy of pivoting power to Asia. The United States and Thailand have held the annual exercises together since 1980, this year involving some 13,000 participants from US-friendly nations across the region.

"We'll certainly be looking at it very closely. It will depend partly on what happens on the ground there," Marciel said in response to a question.

Representative Steve Chabot, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia, said that exercises in Thailand "could clearly send the wrong message" to Thailand and around the world "in light of the repressive nature" of the junta.

Chabot called on President Barack Obama's administration to study moving the 2015 exercises, generally held early each year, to Darwin, Australia, where some 2,500 US Marines are deploying as part of the pivot to Asia.

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