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The junta keeps a tight grip over Thailand as new government settles into place

Updated On: Oct 13, 2006

The media reports are awash with how the junta seems to be wielding an iron fist in a velvet glove as international observers worry about the future freedom and democracy of Thailand.

Indeed, the junta is having a tough time in repairing Thailand’s image as a stable and prosperous country with good leadership. Even if the Thais approve of Gen. Surayud as interim premier and his new cabinet comprising mostly of former senior technocrats and what is seen by the business community as “investor-friendly” cabinet, reactions to the junta’s decision not to lift martial law may be muted but generally negative.  

After the first cabinet meeting, Gen. Surayud announced that the martial law will continue until the situation stabilizes. He told the media, “[We] need to wait a while longer for the situation to calm. We will consider lifting martial law as soon as possible.” He also reiterated that the government would always “recognise [the] people's rights and freedom and never ignore them”.

In what seem like a “defensive move” to justify further to the outside world the “correctness” of the coup, it was noted in The Nation that some “academics from the National Institute of Development Administration led by Somphot Kannanut lodged a petition with the US Embassy yesterday asking Washington to refrain from expressing its hype against the coup as such comments could be interpreted as intervening in the country's internal affairs”. Sophot stressed that Thai “democracy is different from American democracy” and that the kingdom’s “political maturity” must be respected and allowed its own progression.

Coup leader Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin told the Nation that “officials had to analyse the chances of any political undercurrents”. He also said it was “better to be safe than sorry and that martial law [would] be lifted when authorities [were] confident of security”.

Meanwhile, resolution of the Southern insurgency continues to progress in fits and starts. After the furore over former Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamed’s hosting of talks in Langkawi, and the government’s plans for talks with the insurgents, Deputy Interior Minister Banyat Chansena has indicated that the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC) abolished by the Thaksin administration be brought back as it has effective in curbing the Southern violence.

More significantly, Bernama has given further insights to the Langkawi talks which saw participation from leaders of Bersatu, Pulo, Barisan Revolusi Nasional, Patani Islamic Liberation Front and Muslim Mujahideen Movement of Patani. The discussion was not as “futile” as earlier believed. It was said that the insurgent groups are now willing to stop pushing for independence “in exchange for amnesty, better economic development and usage of Malay language in schools”. However, the Thai government wants more –a total ceasefire and surrender of weapons.

Apparently, Thai officials do not “see the exiled leaders and their separatist groups as a real security threat [as] they belong to previous generations whose armed wings have virtually vanished and the number of foot soldiers they have on the ground is almost minimal”. What concerns the government at present is “the new generation of militants, who are organised as small independent cells and operate from the villages they live in, and [have] no interest in negotiation”.

Sources:

Separatists 'end call for independence' (Nation, 12 October 2006)

Peace talks facing myriad problems (Nation, 11 October 2006)

Surayud: Martial law to stay for now   (Bangkok Post, 11 October 2006)

Alternatives to Thaksinomics (Bangkok Post, 11 October 2006)

Business leaders hopeful for 2007  (Bangkok Post, 11 October 2006)

CNS ready to reveal assembly (Nation, 11 October 2006)

Turning international opinion around (Nation, 11 October 2006)

Surayud orders his Cabinet members to review projects of previous government (Nation, 11 October 2006)

Martial law to be lifted 'once TRT threat eases' (Nation, 11 October 2006)

Banyat wants SBPAC to be re-established (Bangkok Post, 11 October 2006)

Mahathir's role welcomed (Nation, 11 October 2006)

Separatist Groups Willing To Talk With Thai Govt (Bernama, 10 October 2006)

Pulo warns: Do not miss chance for peace (Nation, 10 October 2006)

Group wants KL to host Thai talks (New Straits Times, 10 October 2006)

King backed me, Mahathir says (Sydney Morning Herald, 9 October 2006)