February 25, 2014 00:00 By Panya Thiosangwan, Jeerapong
Prayuth says military will be on sidelines, as it fears intervening may worsen crisis; Yingluck said in a trembling voice that she was "staying on to protect democracy"
After a weekend of deadly violence, Army Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha yesterday urged all parties to sit down and talk – to try to find a way to prevent the country from plunging into further drama.
In a rare television address on military-run Channel 5, Prayuth reiterated that the army had no intention of playing an active role in forcing a solution to the ongoing political strife.
Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said in a separate interview that there was nothing better than all sides coming together. “When violence is used, the pain will eventually be felt by the nation,” she said.
But, the PM said she would not resign as demanded by anti-government protesters, because it would create a political vacuum.
They spoke after fatal attacks on the anti-government protesters in Trat province on Saturday and in Bangkok on Sunday claimed four lives, three of them children aged four, five and six years old.
In Trat, assailants threw grenades and randomly shot at people including those eating noodles at a stall. Meanwhile, an M-79 grenade was fired close to the Ratchprasong rally site, killing a young boy and his sister.
Many others were also injured in the attacks, and both left a young girl in intensive care units, with one in a coma.
Prayuth, reading from a prepared document, said it was the government that had the primary duty to stop people using violence, and he believed some of those behind the violence were linked to attacks during the 2010 red-shirt protests.
The army is collecting evidence and investigating in order to bring the culprits to justice.
“The army are not afraid of doing duties to bring those responsible for the violence to justice. However, we worry that there would be more casualties, as some groups do not understand and oppose our duties,” he said.
“I urge all demonstrators not to trespass or seize government offices or use weapons against officials in order to avoid officials having to respond in accordance with the constitution,” he said.
“Someone must be held responsible for serious acts but it doesn’t means the military can use force to resolve the situation because the current conflict occurs at numerous levels and involves officers and many groups of civilians.
“If (military) force is used to try to solve the problem … laws and the constitution will have to be nullified.
“Many parties may want to use this method but let us reconsider and come to our senses as to whether the problem can be resolved through peaceful means or not.
“If we do it that way (military force), will we further spread violence or not, as people on all sides are still being mobilised to fight one another?”
Prayuth expressed condolences to the families of those killed and injured in the new wave of violence and warned of a “great loss for the country” if nothing was done to stop it soon.
PM to stay until the last minute
He said it was imperative that all sides tried to hold talks soon.
Protest leaders, however, have demanded that the PM resign and refuse to talk.
Yingluck was asked what she would do if there was a coup and she was held. The PM said would fight and do her job till the last minute.
She expressed her condolences to the families of those killed in attacks in recent days and condemned the perpetrators.
The PM questioned whether protesters really wanted her to have no place in Thai society. With her eyes brimming with tears and her voice trembling, she said: “I am staying on to protect democracy.”
Meanwhile, National Human Rights Commissioner Niran Pitakwatchara said Thailand was on the brink of civil war and becoming a failed state.
“If the situation goes on like this, the country will collapse. [Thailand] will become a failed state,” he said.
Peace advocate Gothom Arya urged both sides to stop blaming each other. He warned red shirts not to confront the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, saying it would not do any good. He called on PDRC supporters to stop idolising the so-called “popcorn” gunmen, who have secretly back them at times of emergency.
Ekachai Srivilas, director of the Office of Peace and Governance at King Prajadhipok’s Institute, said Prayuth’s decision to speak out was good but he called on all armed forces leaders to publicly commit to being mediators in the conflict.