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Thailand ready to accept leading post in UNTAET: Chuan.

TOKYO, Oct. 26 Kyodo

Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai suggested Tuesday Thailand would accept a leading role in U.N. peacekeeping operations during East Timor's transition to independence if asked to do so by the United Nations.

"We must listen to U.N. members' views and follow any U.N. decision," Chuan said in an interview in Tokyo with Kyodo News after being asked if Thailand would allow one of its generals to serve as military commander for the U.N. Transitional Administration for East Timor (UNTAET).

The U.N. Security Council formally approved UNTAET's establishment Monday. The organization is expected to cover three major areas -- administration and governance, humanitarian assistance and reconstruction, and military and police -- to help the territory become an independent country.

UNTAET will replace the Australian-led international force in East Timor (Interfet) in two to four months. Interfet has been deployed in the former Portuguese colony since September to restore order after pro-Indonesia militias and disaffected Indonesian troops ran amok in a frenzy of killing, arson and looting.

Thailand has contributed more than 600 troops to Interfet and Maj. Gen. Songkitti Jaggabatra is the Interfet deputy commander.

Asked if Thailand would welcome East Timor as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the near future, Chuan said it is still too early to decide.

The premier said a decision would be made only after East Timor becomes an independent country.

He also stressed the need to listen to the opinions of officials in East Timor and other ASEAN member countries before such a decision could be reached.

"We (simply) do not know whether East Timor leaders would seek membership in ASEAN, or whether ASEAN members would accept East Timor's participation even if requested to do so," Chuan said.

But the Thai prime minister said recent democratic developments in Indonesia are welcome and expressed hope the new government under Abdurrahman Wahid will work with its citizens on economic reconstruction.

Indonesia, the biggest victim of the Asian financial crisis that erupted more than two years ago, has just taken its first tentative steps toward democracy with the election of Wahid last week.

But, Chuan noted, "The establishment of a new government does not automatically bring about democracy."

Chuan, who arrived in Japan on Sunday for a four-day visit, will meet with Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and Emperor Akihito on Wednesday before returning home.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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