Thailand’s army chief attacked opposition parties, during a rare speech about the insurgency in the country’s south. Gen. Apirat Kongsompong accused them of using the separatist movement to stir discord.
The speech came a week after the army filed a sedition complaint with the police against opposition members.
“They’re trying to use religion and separatist movements for political gain,” Gen. Apirat said Friday. “They criticize the military as being an obstacle to democracy, when in fact we work for every Thai citizen.”
Opposition Future Forward and its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit are critics of military influence in Thai politics and advocates for democratic reforms. Last week’s seminar on the situation in the south was organized by parties including Future Forward and Pheu Thai, the largest in parliament.
The Oct. 3 police complaint alleges that a dozen opposition members spread false information that could incite unrest.
Opposition parties Future Forward and Pheu Thai have said the seminar discussions were truthful and weren’t intended to cause conflict. They didn’t respond immediately to requests for comment on Apirat’s remarks on Friday.
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Separatists in the southern Thailand provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani and Songkhla have fought for an independent state Thailand since in 1902. When Thailand formally annexed the autonomous Malay-Muslim sultanate.
Apirat also indirectly referenced a meeting with prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong. Warning Thai youths to avoid resorting to the kind of street protests seen in the Chinese territory.
Separately, the Chinese embassy in Bangkok late Thursday posted a statement on its Facebook page. Slamming unnamed Thai politicians for supporting activists in Hong Kong.
The army chief’s speech also touched on concerns about the spread of fake news, and communist ideology, as threats to the nation.
Future Forward and Pheu Thai are part of an opposition bloc that controls almost half the lower house following March’s disputed general election. The first since the military coup in 2014.
The pro-military ruling coalition that emerged after the poll has a razor-thin majority. The opposition will square off against the administration during next week’s debate over the annual budget.
Concerns linger that the budget bill may be difficult to pass because of the ruling alliance’s slim majority. Apirat’s speech underscores the tension between the two sides.
Implementation of the fiscal plan has already been delayed, posing a challenge for a slowing economy.