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Nasa study no spying mission, says Thai minister
Publication Date : 03-10-2012
Thailand's Science Minister Plodprasob Surassawadee sought to allay suspicions yesterday that the US space agency's planned study of climate patterns in Thailand was actually cover for a spying mission, although he acknowledged that one of the aircraft to be used had the capability for espionage.
He insisted that the project was not involved with security issues and should therefore not be discussed under Article 190 of the Constitution, as has been suggested by the opposition Democrat Party.
Plodprasob said the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) would give Thailand records of the US military pilots who will fly the planes in Thai airspace and said Thai officials would "control all the flights". He said there would be regular briefings about the survey till it was completed.
"As to the question if there will be espionage, the answer is definitely no. As far as I know, 90 per cent of the survey will be conducted over the sea, and you may get nothing from spying over the sea," the science minister said.
Plodprasob admitted that one of the three US aircraft to be used in the Nasa study had a history of being used on reconnaissance missions, "but as far as I know, it has not used [for that purpose] anymore".
He was speaking to a joint meeting of Parliament on the government's urgent motion to discuss whether to grant Nasa permission to conduct the survey as part of its Southeast Asia Composition, Cloud, Climate Coupling Regional Study (SEAC4RS).
Plodprasob made a seven-point explanation to answer questions involving the controversial project, such as why Thailand was chosen, whether there would be spying, whether Nasa would conduct this study straightforwardly and what benefits the Thai people would receive.
He said Thailand was chosen because of its unique geographical and climatic features - the country has land and sea, it is located between two oceans, and it is in an area affected by both the southwesterly and northeasterly winds. Thailand was not capable of conducting such a study by itself, due to a lack of satellites, aircraft, computers and scientific knowledge possessed by the US, he added.
The minister said U-tapao, the Royal Thai Navy airbase, was chosen because its hangar could accommodate the planes to be used in the study and it had efficient maintenance facilities. The airbase was close to Bangkok and Pattaya, which was also an advantage.
"I think any foreigner who has to stay in Thailand for two to three months is happy when he is close to Pattaya," Plodprasob said, without elaborating.
As to the question what the Thai public would gain from this project, he said: "Scientific knowledge. And Thailand will be a leader in this region".
In response to possible concerns by China or other neighbouring countries, the science minister said the Foreign Affairs Ministry would call a meeting of ambassadors from the countries concerned to explain the US mission to them. Nasa representatives would also be on hand to answer questions.
Scientists from China and other Asean countries would be allowed to join the project, he said.