Surapong, officials clash over UN issue

Senior Foreign Ministry officials have confirmed they never supported caretaker Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul’s decision to invite the United Nations to Thailand.

The officials’ statement came a day after Mr Surapong said the invitation to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon was for him to share the UN’s experience of resolving political conflicts similar to Thailand’s, not to broker talks between conflicting political parties.

However, sources who attended a meeting with the minister on Friday said Mr Surapong admitted he took a different view from ministry staff, who said the invitation was a bad idea. Mr Surapong maintained the invitation was intended as a gesture of goodwill for the country.

Mr Surapong spent most of the meeting talking and only allotted 15 minutes for hearing comments from permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow, according to staff who asked to remain anonymous.

The caretaker minister called the meeting after a group of officials shared an open letter on social media and within the ministry last week.

In it they opposed the invitation for the UN to mediate in Thai politics.

According to ministry sources, Mr Surapong sought advice from Mr Sihasak via a middleman.

Mr Sihasak disagreed with Mr Surapong’s idea, saying the situation in Thailand had not yet reached a grave enough situation to warrant the UN’s help, the sources said.

He said the most the UN could do would be to share experiences of conflict in other countries.

If the minister still wanted to let the UN mediate the current political stand-off, the ministry must discuss groundwork with UN staff before any visits from Mr Ban or his special rapporteur, the sources quoted the permanent secretary as saying.

“Mr Sihasak was also concerned about the consequences of the invitation [should the UN accept it] which may involve Thailand providing annual reports to the UN on the situation. This could force the caretaker government into an unauthorised commitment,” a source said.

In addition, Mr Sihasak’s concerns reflected those of senior ministry staff over the ongoing political situation which is affecting the nation’s image and investors’ confidence.

“Mr Sihasak is also concerned about the ministry’s image, as he did not want it to become embroiled in domestic politics,’’ a sourced said of the talks with Mr Surapong.

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