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Thailand to acquire 120 U.S. armoured vehicles

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s military plans to acquire 120 American-made armoured vehicles by 2020, with the first batch of 10 arriving next month, a Thai defence ministry source told Reuters on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Thailand's Royal Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong speaks during an interview with Reuters in Bangkok, Thailand, August 9, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

The United States curbed military aid to Thailand following a 2014 army coup, but ties are improving after disputed elections this year that officially restored civilian rule under a government led by former junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Army chief General Apirat Kongsompong told reporters that Thailand would receive 70 U.S. made armoured infantry carrier vehicles by the end of the year and 50 more next year, but did not give the value of the deal.

“The first delivery will consist of 10 vehicles and by the end of the year there will be 70 vehicles,” Apirat said.

“There will be 50 vehicle in the next lot.”

He said the armoured vehicles would be deployed at a base in Chachoengsao, south of the capital of Bangkok.

U.S. embassy officials were not immediately available to comment on the army chief’s remarks.

A defence ministry source told Reuters that Thailand paid for 47 vehicles and the U.S. would supply 23 free in this year’s purchase, while 50 more will be bought next year. The U.S. will also help the Thai army in the maintenance of the vehicles.

The source declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

In July, the U.S. State Department said it had approved a government-to-government Foreign Military Sales deal for 60 Stryker armoured vehicles and equipment, at an estimated cost of $175 million.

Under junta rule, Thailand bought tanks and infantry fighting vehicles from China to replace old U.S. models, as well as planning to set up a joint centre with China to produce and maintain military gear, as relations cooled between Washington and its oldest ally in Southeast Asia after the 2014 coup.

The United States remains an important ally for Thailand.

Next week, Thailand will host the opening of the first-ever maritime drill between the navies of the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the 11th Indo-Pacific army chief conference on Sept 9.

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Clarence Fernandez