BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Deputy Prime Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula said on Thursday that the United States has more confidence in Thailand’s government, four months after the military seized power in a bloodless coup.
Thailand’s military government is seeking international legitimacy following the May 22 coup that was condemned by Western nations who downgraded diplomatic ties. The government has previously portrayed meetings with diplomats as endorsements.
His comments came after a meeting with U.S. ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney at Bangkok’s Government House ahead of Kenney’s return to Washington next month following the end of her Thailand posting.
“Ambassador Kristie came to bid farewell. They wanted to know how this government works,” Pridiyathorn told reporters.
“We explained that we work sincerely. Once we talked they could see that we are serious about our work. After we explained our work I looked into her eyes and saw that she is more confident.”
The army declared martial law nationwide two days before it seized power following six months of sometimes deadly street protests that contributed to the ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose populist government was opposed by the Bangkok royalist establishment.
The U.S. Embassy Bangkok said in a statement it would continue to evaluate its engagement with Thailand, its closest ally in Southeast Asia.
“We continue to evaluate carefully our engagement with and assistance to Thailand, reviewing all military and senior level engagements on a case-by-case basis. We continue to urge Thai authorities to immediately lift martial law and restrictions of civil liberties, and to call for the speedy restoration of democracy under a freely and fairly elected civilian government,” the embassy said in an emailed statement.
Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief who led the coup, was appointed prime minister in August and heads an interim cabinet stacked with serving and retired military officers.
He stepped down as army chief last month but remains leader of the junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and prime minister.
Thailand has been deeply divided since 2006, when Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by the army after being accused of corruption and republican leanings.
The constitution was re-written under a military-backed government in an effort to limit Thaksin’s political influence. But that failed to stop Yingluck from coming to power just a few years later, in 2011, after winning a general election.
Yingluck was ordered to step down by a court days before the May coup after she was found guilty of abuse of power. Her supporters accuse the court of bias and of siding with the elite.
Kenney, who began her duties in Thailand in 2011, came under criticism from Thai royalist groups during months of protests which began in November and saw parts of Bangkok occupied.
At the height of the protests, hundreds of Thai royalists protested outside of the U.S. embassy in Bangkok calling for Kenney to get out of the country claiming that she was pro-Yingluck and out of touch with the political situation.
Kenney has called the coup a setback for Thailand.
Washington showed its displeasure post-coup by blocking security-related aid to Thailand, and suspending visits by top military officers and a police training program.
Thailand and the U.S. are co-hosts of the annual Cobra Gold joint military training exercise - one of the largest U.S. military exercises in the world and a key element in its much-touted diplomatic “pivot” to Asia.
Speaking to reporters in Thai, Kenney thanked the Thai people for their friendship on Thursday but did not comment on the May coup or the new military government.
Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Editing by Andrew R.C. Marshall and Nick Macfie