Thailand welcomes easing of EU political sanctions

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BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's military junta has welcomed the European Union's decision to ease political sanctions imposed against it for overthrowing an elected government in 2014.

The EU's announcement is "good news" that underscores positive developments under military rule, Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said Tuesday.

The EU's Foreign Affairs Council announced Monday that it was "appropriate to pursue a gradual political re-engagement with Thailand" because it had improved some human rights conditions by no longer prosecuting civilians in military courts for many offenses, adopted a new constitution and set an election date for 2018.

The EU suspended official visits with Thailand in response to the coup.

It said it would continue to review its relationship with Thailand while watching for other rights improvements including the lifting of media restrictions and a ban on political activities, and "the installation of a democratically elected civilian government."

The EU still urged the junta not to try civilians in military courts on charges of insulting the royal family, or lese majeste. Thailand's lese majeste law is the harshest in the world, providing punishment of up to 15 years in prison per offense.

The EU also called on the military government to respect its promise to hold elections next November. The junta has already postponed elections several times.

Last month, police said they found a stash of weapons they suspect belonged to supporters of the government that was ousted in the coup. The junta has given the arms discovery as a reason to prolong its ban on political activities, raising speculation from critics that it does not want to relinquish power.

"Once again the military government seems to be finding every excuse to try to curtail political parties and their ability to start mustering support ahead of the planned elections in less than a year from now," Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey said in a Dec 3 op-ed column about the weapons discovery. Officials have denied accusations that the discovery was a set up.

Don, the foreign minister, told reporters that he now expects there will be more communication between Thailand and the EU over the next year, which he said could be a good opportunity to explain why elections might have to be delayed if any incidents occur.

"But today we are sticking to the roadmap," Don said.

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