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Crucial ASEAN bills pass in rowdy house session

The Nation | January 28, 2009

Crucial asean bills pass in rowdy house session

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee

Free-trade and bilateral pacts among deals approved

Thai lawmakers yesterday approved a total of 41 crucial Asean and related agreements after a stormy House session was suspended twice due to heated debates.

The passage of the agreements will allow the government to sign deals with its counterparts during the upcoming Asean summit from Feb 27 to March 1.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will join other Asean leaders in signing eight pacts during the summit, while foreign ministers of Asean will sign five separate agreements.

Another 28 agreements will be signed by finance and other ministers of the 10 Asean states.

Article 190 of the Thai Constitution requires the government to seek parliamentary backing before negotiating and signing any agreements with foreign countries.

Among the Asean documents are the Bangkok Declaration on the roadmap for an Asean Community and a framework for the Asean human rights body, which will turn Asean into a regional community and a legal-based organisation.

The Parliament also approved free-trade agreements that Thailand will join with other members and dialogue partners. The free-trade pacts include agreements between Asean and partners from India, China, Australia and New Zealand.

The Foreign, Commerce, Labour, Transport and Public Health ministries are involved in these matters.

Bilateral agreements on matters such as human trafficking with Burma and labour cooperation with South Korea were also approved.

An ad-hoc committee of 36 MPs will scrutinise some pacts such as the Asean document for a human rights body and a memorandum of understanding on labour with South Korea. The committee will complete their work within 15 days.

Chai Chidchob, who chaired the morning House session, ordered a five-minute break when debate about Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya’s role in protests last year got heated.

Jatuporn Promphan from the opposition Pheu Thai Party warmed up the session when he asked Kasit to clarify his role in the People’s Alliance for Democracy protest last year.

Kasit’s rude attack on Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen during last year’s protests was also cited as bad for relations with a neighbouring countries, the opposition MP said. "Shame on you, Mr Kasit as you referred to Cambodian Prime Minister with such rude words," Jatuporn said.

In a television talk show on October 14 last year, Kasit called Hun Sen a "thug" when Cambodia gave an ultimatum for Thai troops to withdraw from the vicinity of Preah Vihear temple.

Jatuporn’s speech led to objections from Democrat members including Boonyod Sukthinthai, Chamni Sakdiset and Kraisak Choonhavan. They said the debate was called to approve the Asean pacts, and wasn’t a censure motion against the foreign minister.

In response, Kasit said he exercised his right as a Thai citizen to criticise Hun Sen when the latter threatened Thailand. But he said he was now on good terms with Hun Sen.

Kasit also told Parliament he saw nothing wrong with the airport closure, as many airports around the world also needed to close after protests by pilots or ground staffs.

"I have never seen any countries compensate tourists for those events," he said, noting his government would be a special case if it compensated travellers.

The afternoon session also got heated when a Pheu Thai MP urged chairman Prasopsuk Boondej to count the quorum after seeing MPs meet outside.

 source: The Nation