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Referee steps in to halt fight

The Army must now disprove the coup rumours by getting the combatants around the table to seek a peaceful way out for the country

After more than six months of political confrontation and tension, the military has finally taken action - abruptly, as it turned out. Early yesterday Army commander-in-chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha declared martial law and set up the Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC) in a bid to stem growing violence in the country. The military has assumed responsibility for maintaining peace and order and martial law expands its authority to guard public security and safety.

The POMC has issued orders for different sectors of society. Ten satellite-based television stations, operated by both pro- and anti-government groups, and their affiliated community channels were ordered to suspend broadcasts. Both pro- and anti-government protesters have been ordered not to move from their present rally sites and to maintain the peace.

Top bureaucrats, chiefs of state agencies, provincial governors and representatives of civic groups are among those "invited" to meet with the POMC. They can do so at the Army Club in Bangkok or at three Army camps - in Nakhon Ratchasima for those in the Northeast, in Phitsanulok for those in the North, and in Nakhon Si Thammarat for those in the South.

Armed soldiers have been dispatched to "guard" media organisations - particularly the main television stations - as well as strategically important state agencies, such as petroleum firm PTT. Some political observers have described the situation as a "half coup".

A good sign is that the Army - the most powerful of the three armed forces - has not staged a coup or seized power from the increasingly weakened government.

The POMC and its chief should now move to ensure that the conflicting sides sit down together and talk in order to find a peaceful way out for the country. They should serve as "referee" in this ongoing dispute, which threatens to further weaken the economy. They should seek to identify which options are in the best interest of the country.

The conflicting sides, namely the caretaker Pheu Thai Party-led administration and the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), should both be made aware of the need to find a solution that benefits the country as a whole, and not any particular group or individual. The Army should make sure that the politicians involved realise this necessity, since many of them seem unmindful of it, intentionally or not.

What the POMC and General Prayuth should avoid is making any move that would bolster fears they are seizing administrative power. Pro-government activists view the military with suspicion. The Army chief must not be tempted to take over as prime minister and the military should avoid clinging to power after completing its mission of averting violence. It should prove its critics wrong with actions that make clear it is intervening only in the interest of the country.

Having stepped under the bright spotlight of both domestic and international scrutiny, the Army and its chief now carry the hopes of millions. Their next moves will be decisive for Thailand.

The military should ensure that any changes it makes pave the way for sweeping reforms and "cleaner" politics - something agreed upon by both sides in the political divide.


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