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Eu furious over thai government bird flu coverup

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Thursday February 5, 3:45 PM
EU furious over Thai government's bird flu "cover-up"

The European Union (EU) has blasted Thailand for covering up the bird flu outbreak and misleading its consumer protection commissioner David Byrne during a visit here last month, press reports say.

The Nation newspaper said Byrne's head of cabinet Martin Power summoned Thailand's ambassador to the EU Surapong Posayanond on January 29 to rap him for embarrassing the commissioner.

After meetings with Thai ministers here Byrne said the EU was "satisfied there is no evidence of any bird flu in Thailand", only to have the government confirm a massive outbreak three days later.

"It was disgraceful that the Thai government misinformed the comissioner, who directly oversees health and consumer protection," Power told the ambassador, according to a diplomatic cable cited by The Nation.

"The commissioner has lost his long-held confidence in the Thai government," said the cable sent from Thailand's embassy in Brussels to the foreign ministry in Bangkok.

Power also reportedly said that Byrne had been heavily criticised by the European media for naively trusting Thai authorities.

The EU has already complained about Thailand's lack of transparency in dealing with bird flu, particularly after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra admitted the government suspected the outbreak but kept quiet for fear of causing panic.

Byrne's spokeswoman Beate Gminder said late last month that an EU ban on Thai chicken, which has helped devastate the kingdom's 1.2 billion dollar poultry exporting industry, could be lengthy.

"Given the unfolding of events in Thailand last week, the admission by the Thai prime minister that things were not as the public was led to believe, an independent verification of these measures and its impact in Thailand will have to take place," she said in unusually frank remarks.

"In these circumstances... of non-transparency... a complete reliance on Thai assurances does not seem to be the best way to go forward."

On Tuesday the EU extended the ban for six months to August 15, saying it wanted to make sure there was no risk of transmission through eating poultry products.

The Nation said Agriculture Minister Somsak Thepsuthin sent a letter to Byrne last week explaining the government had not intended to cover up the outbreak, and that bird flu was not confirmed here earlier because officials dealing with it were inexperienced.

The government has admitted publicly that it "screwed up" in its handling of the bird flu crisis, which has killed at least five people here, but that inefficiency on the part of government agencies was to blame.

Another nine countries have been hit by bird flu

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