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Navy denies Nasa unloading gear in Thai airbase
Publication Date : 25-06-2012
The Thailand Navy yesterday dismissed as groundless an allegation by the opposition Democrat Party that Nasa had been allowed to unload equipment for use in a weather research project based at U-tapao airbase before the government had given the project the green light.
"It is false information and groundless. There is no US equipment. If the US wants to land or unload anything at U-tapao, they need to ask permission from the Navy. There is neither [anything] secret, nor spy planes at the airbase," said the commander of the Royal Thai Navy, Admiral Kanat Thongpol. "There is nothing, I can guarantee. Please trust me; I take care of this matter."
Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said earlier the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration started unloading its equipment for the research project at U-tapao on May 18, a month before the opposition disclosed the project to the public.
"If Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul could answer this question, I believe the Cabinet would be able to approve the project without any problem," Chavanond said.
Surapong did not answer Chavanond's questions yesterday but the ruling Pheu Thai Party's spokesman Promphong Nopparit called on the Democrats to dump Chavanond from his position, saying he continually released false information that confused the public, simply for political gain.
"The true information from the Navy is a big slap in the face for the Democrats. The party has overly politicised the issue to discredit the government, without regard for the national interest," Promphong said.
Defence Ministry spokesman Thanatip Sawangsaeng said the date of May 18 as mentioned by the Democrats was from an old Nasa schedule.
"The project has not yet been approved by the Thai government due to legal technicalities, so the project is not on schedule as planned," he said.
Democrat MP Tavorn Senneam said he was disappointed with military commanders who offered assurances that the Nasa project had no security implications.
"The commanders of the armed forces should express their concern over the project since it might affect security matters," he said, adding that Nasa might have a hidden military agenda as the high-altitude ER-2 aircraft it plans to use was developed from the U2 spy plane.
Defence Ministry spokesman Thanatip, who is an Army colonel, said the ER-2 was designed for scientific research purposes. It can fly at high altitude but is not a spy aircraft, he said.
Nasa said on its website that ER-2 high-altitude aircraft will fly into the stratosphere to the edge of space while the National Science Foundation's G-V and Nasa's DC-8 aircraft sample the atmosphere below it. An array of sensors spread across the region at locations on the ground and in the South China Sea will observe the atmosphere from the bottom up, it said.
A Thai Super King Air 350 from the Bureau of Royal Rainmaking and Agricultural Aviation would also participate in the search project.