Prayuth warns Pheu Thai
Tensions rise as Army chief fumes after soldiers on anti-narcotics mission are threatened
Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha issued a stern warning to the Pheu Thai Party yesterday, raising pre-election tension after a Bangkok Pheu Thai candidate and his men allegedly threatened soldiers on an anti-narcotics mission.In one of his strongest remarks yet to the opposition party, Prayuth criticised what he implied was an act of provocation against the Army, which was committed to supporting a peaceful, democratic election."If nobody respects the law, what good is the election? How can the country survive if you have your election but outlawed measures are used to pressure [state officials doing their job]?" Prayuth asked. "I have been doing my best to keep the election campaign atmosphere good. Please don't take a swipe at us, and let state authorities - be it police or soldiers - do their job. If you don't give them room to function, what good will the election be?"The outburst followed an incident on May 23 in which Pheu Thai's Nong Chok district candidate Pairoj Issara-seripong and some aides allegedly threatened a smaller group of soldiers disseminating anti-drug questionnaires in Kokfaek in the district. Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the Army spokesman, said the group displayed pistols, with Pairoj telling the soldiers: "If I blow a whistle, you **** will not be able to **** leave this area."The area was a "red zone", with red clothes hanging out to dry outside many homes. The Pheu Thai side suggested that Pairoj's group was reacting to residents' fears that the soldiers were on a political mission to intimidate them.Pairoj yesterday filed libel charges against Sansern and denied his group flashed guns to threaten the soldiers. "We did not carry any weapons," he said. "We sought to talk to the soldiers to find out what was going on, as their presence caused panic among the people in the area. Some of the people were afraid that drugs could be planted on them to frame them as they were red shirts."Pairoj's action against Sansern apparently fuelled Prayuth's anger. "Who do you think you are, threatening officials like that? I can accept it. If sending two soldiers leads to problems like this, how about sending 50 next time? Let's see if they can lay siege to soldiers again. If 50 doesn't work, it will have to be 100. Will it have to come to that?" he said.The strong remarks all but blew away the semblance of a cordial atmosphere that followed Pheu Thai prime-ministerial candidate Yingluck Shinawatra's olive branch to the Army. In a recent interview, Yingluck said she was ready to call on Prayuth and seek his advice. The Army turned down her offer, saying it wanted to stay out of politics during this crucial period of the election campaign.In her latest interview yesterday, Yingluck told TV Channel 3 that if she became prime minister her government would treat the military professionally. She vowed to respect the military's role after the election, saying Pheu Thai "will only implement defence policies as promised to voters".During the interview, Yingluck was asked if she was worried that Pheu Thai would miss out on forming the next government even if it won the election. "Let's just say that democratic rules should be adhered to, and that is allowing the party that wins the most votes to have a chance to form the government first," she replied.Prayuth denied that he harboured prejudice against Pheu Thai. "I only have prejudice against people who break the law. Therefore, no matter which party you belong to, just don't break the law. If you break the law, it's no use talking. Talking to lawbreakers is meaningless. You must obey the law. Otherwise, you will be punished and then you will complain about injustice," he said."Soldiers have never changed. We are still the people's soldiers. We have a duty to protect the nation, religion and the monarchy and the people have a duty to uphold the law." Prayuth insisted he had tried his best to stay out of politics during the election campaign. "I treat everyone with equal respect and I just expect the same in return. Please don't exploit us and drag us into issues that aren't supposed to be issues," he said.