BANGKOK, June 2 -- The United States will formally hand over to Thailand a powerful new radio station designed to boost the signal of the Voice of America throughout the Asia-Pacific region, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The state-of-the-art, $120 million station, which has been under construction since 1989, will be dedicated Saturday in the Ban Dung district of the northeastern province of Udon Thani by Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, U.S. Ambassador David Lambertson and Voice of America Director Geoffrey Cowan.
Under an agreement between the Thai and U.S. governments, the Voice of America will give the station to Thailand, but will be allowed to operate it under a 25-year renewable lease.
U.S. officials said each of the station's seven shortwave transmitters is capable of broadcasting 500 kilowatts of power, covering 40 percent of the earth's surface.
One of the transmitters will be dedicated for use by Radio Thailand, with sufficient power to reach the Middle East and the West Coast of the United States. Both areas have large expatriate Thai communities.
The Udon relay station will supplement the Voice of America's relay station in the Philippines, providing more powerful, clearer signals in 18 languages to listeners throughout Asia and the Pacific, the officials said.
The officials declined to comment on whether the new station would be used to relay programs for the newly funded Radio Free Asia.
The U.S. Congress approved an annual budget of $22 million for Radio Free Asia in April.
U.S. officials said Radio Free Asia will operate as a separate entity from the Voice of America, similar to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.
Several Asian governments, including China's, have expressed opposition to the establishment of Radio Free Asia.