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Political dialogue will take a lot longer than expected, foreign experts say

Dialogue is the only way forward if Thailand is to avoid descending into civil war, foreign conflict-resolution experts have said.

Adam Kahane, a conflict-resolution expert from the United States, said both sides of the political divide must find a way to make dialogue work.

Kahane said if talking was seen as unproductive, fighting was seen as the only option.

"They have the option of fighting, they have the option of talking," said Kahane, one of three conflict resolution experts who spoke yesterday at a Reform Now Network-organised event in Bangkok.

He said the situation in Thailand had become highly complex and as such any dialogue would be protracted.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint, so be prepared for it," he said.

Katia Papagianni, director of the Policy and Mediation Support Programme at the Geneva-based Henri Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, said national dialogue on reform needed to be preceded by serious negotiations at a leadership level. Papagianni urged the leaders of both sides to establish contact privately, while stressing the need for a third voice to be heard.

The goal of dialogue was to build trust.

Papagianni said the breaking down of taboo issues, strengthening freedom of expression and keeping all the political players in the process was vital.

Michael Vatikiotis, Asia regional director for the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, said Thailand had failed to reform after the 1997 Asian economic crisis and could learn from Indonesia's reform experience.

Kraisak Choonhavan, a former senator and a leader of the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee, said secret dialogue had taken place but there could be no deal because the Yingluck Shinawatra-led caretaker government insisted on reclaiming the Bt45 billion in confiscated assets of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Kraisak accused BBC and New York Times correspondents in Bangkok of biased reporting against the PDRC and of being on Thaksin's payroll. Kraisak said he was buying a gun to protect himself from pro-government red shirts.

"I'm going out to buy a gun but the gun shop is closed. Will [the red shirts] shoot me when I go up on [the PDRC] stage?" he said.

Kittipong Kittayarak, a key Reform Now Network member and Ministry of Justice permanent secretary, said the fear of Thailand being divided into two independent states might convince people to seek a solution.

"Do we need to create such fear? Some people are already feeling it," Kittipong said.


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