The Nation



Prayuth behind PM-Suthep talks

Initiator of discussion unclear as both sides stick to their guns

The two conflicting parties - Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban - would not have met on Sunday if Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha had not stepped in.

This is the first time Prayuth has played a role in the current political turmoil. Though the military side prefers to be seen as a "facilitator" or "mediator", some observers considered the part it played in the talks as a silent coup. After all, a coup with soldiers and tanks would be quite unacceptable.

However, it is still not clear who was the "real" initiator of the talks.

Suthep only told the public about the discussion an hour after it took place and provided no details, while Yingluck - in her first statement since peaceful protests turned violent late on Saturday - said she had called on the Army to coordinate talks with the other side.

Some sources, however, said the talks were coordinated by Prayuth via former defence minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who is close to Suthep.

Army chief uneasy about unrest

The first sign of Prayuth's role emerged on Sunday after deputy Army spokesman Winthai Suwaree told the media that the chief was pleading with police and anti-government protesters to stop what they were doing.

The statement was issued after police fired tear gas at crowds who were trying to occupy Government House and Metropolitan Police Bureau Headquarters.

The Army chief also offered to find a way for the two sides to hold future talks, the spokesman said, adding that Prayuth was feeling uneasy about the situation.

Initially, Yingluck wanted the discussion to be conducted through videoconferencing, but Suthep refused, asking to meet in person, a military source said. He also refused to meet at a venue related to the police force for fear of being captured.

The meeting was eventually staged at the King's own bodyguard, the 1st Infantry Regiment, on Phaholyothin Road.

The five people present at the meeting were Yingluck, Suthep, General Prayuth, Navy chief Admiral Narong Pipathanasai and Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Prajin Janthong. The meeting lasted for about half an hour without any conclusions.

According to the source, the meeting began with Yingluck asking Suthep what he really wanted. Suthep responded by giving her an ultimatum to return the power to the people and pave the way for reform. However, the prime minister insisted that she had done nothing wrong and that his demand was unconstitutional.

"You should respect the million people who wholeheartedly came out to protest against you," Suthep was quoted as saying.

"I came via democratic means. I run the country on my own without listening to my brother," she said, referring to Thaksin Shinawatra.

The talks stalled as both sides continued sticking by their stance, prompting the top brass to ask if dissolution of the House of Representatives or Yingluck's resignation would be acceptable. Suthep said the "situation is beyond that".

According to the source, the three military commanders insisted that they would stand for Thailand and look for the best way out for the country, which included being a mediator in these talks.

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