BANGKOK – Thailand’s Military chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha on Monday strongly urged all parties involved in the ongoing political crisis to enter into talks to end the conflict, and maintained the military’s desire to remain impartial, according to reports.
Following a spate of bombings over the past four days targeting rally sites of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), including a lethal attack on a rally in Trat on Saturday and a fatal grenade explosion at Ratchaprasong in the heart of Bangkok on Sunday, Gen Prayuth appeared on the army-run television station to make his position clear.
After assiduously seeking to remain neutral in Thailand’s three-month power struggle, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief, repeatedly called for adherence to the Thai Constitution.
”I strongly hope to see the problem resolved by peaceful means and to see no more conflict,” Gen Prayuth said in a statement read out on the television station.
”What will be urgently undertaken is to see that all sides hold talks” to prevent further violence that would severely damage the country, he said.
His statement comes amid worrying signs of mounting political violence, with some speculating that the army might decide to intervene after standing back and watching the police ineffectively enforce the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order’s attempts to ensure security.
But Gen Prayuth made it clear that the military option is not a solution to the ongoing crisis, and it could prove to be a setback as violence might increase if there was military intervention, according to reports.
”If we use the wrong means, or the full use of military force, how can we ensure that the situation will end peacefully?” the chief said.
”The army is never afraid of performing our duty but we are concerned about more losses and injuries to people because many sides do not understand and oppose the army,” he said.
He said the army, police and civil servants are not taking sides in the conflict and that the army would not sit idly by and watch the attackers walk free.
In his address, General Prayuth issued a stark warning about the fragility of the nation, saying it would “permanently stop functioning” if the situation were not urgently addressed.
“If there is any further loss of life,” he said, “the country will definitely collapse, and there won’t be any winners or losers.”
The general cited military intelligence that there were many armed groups and said that the situation was more complex than a political standoff four years ago.
Although he said the military and the police did not support either side, General Prayuth used the word constitution nine times in his 10-minute speech and underlined that it was still in force. The protesters, who are seeking to banish Ms. Yingluck and her family from Thailand, say they want to set up an unelected “people’s council” that would replace Parliament.
Surachart Bamrungsuk, a professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok who is an expert on the Thai military, said General Prayuth’s speech was “a signal to the elites who are pushing for a coup.”
The message, Mr. Surachart said, was “that the military is not getting involved and that the military is trying to obey the law.”
“It’s also a signal directly to the demonstrators,” he said.
The protesters, led by a former deputy prime minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, appear to have powerful backing and financing, and they remain defiant despite declining numbers of supporters in the streets.
Even as General Prayuth was urging the government to stop protesters from invading government offices in his speech on Monday, hard-core elements of the protest movement invaded the Foreign Ministry and ordered staff members to go home.
Gothom Arya, one of Thailand’s leading constitutional experts, said in an interview on Monday that the army chief’s speech suggested “he’s leaning a little toward the government” but that other forces remained opposed to the government.
“Roughly speaking, the law is on the government’s side,” Mr. Gothom said. “But the people who are enforcing the law, especially the judiciary, may have another idea.”
Gen Prayuth also said there is a link between the ongoing violence and the 2010 protest rally, and that more evidence and information was being gathered to verify this.
He did not elaborate on this comment, but he was evidently referring to the “men in black” who launched lethal attacks against soldiers and supporters of the Democrat Party-led government at the time of the 2010 protests.