14,000 to guard regional ministers' meet: Thai military

BANGKOK, July 14, 2009 (AFP) - Thailand will deploy a 14,000-strong team to police a regional summit on the resort island of Phuket, a senior military official told AFP Tuesday, after protests scuppered similar talks in April.

The military has been given increased powers to guard the foreign ministers attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum later this month, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Altogether there will be a 14,000-strong force including members of the military, police, volunteers, rangers and interior ministry officials," the high-ranking official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He said specially-trained military and police commandos would also be deployed to protect the ministers from more than two dozen countries attending the forum on the southern isle, which runs from July 19-23.

Thailand's government has already announced a complete ban on protests on Phuket during the talks, and invoked the internal security act for the island and an area five kilometres (three miles) around it.

The law allows the military to assist the police at the meeting, which groups foreign ministers from the 10 ASEAN members plus 16 dialogue partners including the United States, China, Japan and South Korea.

The army are also authorised to impose a curfew, block roads, ban the carrying of weapons and censure the media, among other measures.

In April, Asian leaders were forced to flee the coastal city of Pattaya when anti-government protesters loyal to ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra faced off against about 500 soldiers as they stormed the summit venue.

Two days of deadly rioting ensued in Bangkok following the cancellation of the meeting, and a state of emergency was declared in the capital.

The leaders' summit has now been postponed until October. It was originally due to be held last December but was repeatedly delayed and moved because of ongoing political turmoil in Thailand.

Source: AFP

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