Thailand expels three Iraqi diplomats

BANGKOK: Thailand's prime minister said yesterday that the country had expelled three Iraqi diplomats because they represent a threat to national security on the eve of an anticipated US-led war in Iraq. 

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the unidentified officials were asked to leave after an investigation by Thai and US intelligence officials, but said the expulsion was not solely based on the wishes of the United States. 

“We urged the Iraqi Embassy to send out three officials after we learned from intelligence sources that they are a threat to the security of the nation,'' Thaksin told reporters. 

“It will not cause political problems with Baghdad because it is normal practice for every country to have the right to ask officials to leave.”  

Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai summoned the Iraqi ambassador on Tuesday and asked that the three embassy staff leave Thailand, a ministry official said.  

The three were scheduled to depart Thailand on a flight this afternoon to Baghdad via Amman, Jordan, said Kasem Chaichongrakpakdee, secretary to the Iraqi ambassador. 

“The Thai government ordered them to be expelled. They didn't give a reason,'' he said. “They only said this is the government's policy.'' 

Thaksin added that the expulsion did not reflect Thailand's stance on the anticipated war in Iraq, and that he would confer with other South-East Asian governments before taking a stand. 

Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country with a Muslim minority, is a traditional ally of the United States. 

Two weeks ago, a delegation of Thai senators and human rights activists visited Iraq to call for peace and urge Baghdad's co-operation with UN weapons inspectors. 

Thailand pulled its last four diplomats out of Iraq last Tuesday, relocating them temporarily to Jordan in case of war. 

On March 6, the US government asked 60 countries to expel alleged Iraqi agents suspected of being poised to attack American interests overseas. Washington identified 300 Iraqis for expulsion, some of them diplomats based in Iraqi embassies, US officials said at the time. 

The US government made similar requests to foreign governments before the 1991 Gulf War, according to the officials.  

Countries including Australia, Finland, Austria and Romania have expelled Iraqi officials or asked Iraqi embassies to cut staff.  

Russia and Germany, both opposed to US policy on Iraq, have said they would not comply. – AFP 

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