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Reconciliation means allowing space for other opinions

A clear timeframe and roadmap for the country under the ruling junta was revealed by the coup leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, only days after his power seizure.

Of the three steps in the roadmap, the most important is a start to restoring peace in the country by setting up reconciliation centres nationwide. This goal was aimed at ending deep-rooted and colour-coded political division.

In his national address on Friday night, Prayuth said the first step would take two or three months - launching reconciliation centres in the capital and across the country, with the Internal Security Operation Command taking charge.

He said reconciliation would begin in all areas, starting from small units like families, and moving to villages, sub- districts, districts, and provinces. The centres would bring together people with different political ideas, he said.

The Army on Saturday held its first event to promote reconciliation at a housing estate opposite a red-shirt radio station in Pathum Thani, a key Pheu Thai stronghold. The event offered free food and drinks, entertainment as well as free medical services and haircuts.

In a park in Bangkok, the Army also held a "Bring Back the Happiness" party featuring military bands playing popular songs. Apparently, the coupmakers want to make friends with red shirts and wipe out their hatred of the military.

However, the event in Pathum Thani received only passing interest from red-shirt supporters, according to reporters from this paper who covered the event.

Some may argue that this was just the first time and red shirts may prefer to wait for a while to see how things play out. However, all Thais would agree that achieving reconciliation is vital - but the hard part will be making the plan bear fruit.

People could foresee the future of the reconciliation plan through contrasting images via the pro-Thaksin "red-shirts" and the anti-Thaksin camp, not long after the May 22 coup.

Several red-shirt leaders, who were released after detention, decided to quit politics - though some said it would just be a break and not permanent.

Their rival People's Democratic Reform Committee, on the other hand, held a birthday party for one of its leaders. The party gave the impression they were celebrating their victory after fighting for seven months to oust Yingluck Shinawatra's government.

The event came at the wrong time. It has been widely criticised as inappropriate after photos and a clip from the event were shared on social media.

The pictures were provocative and may cause red-shirt supporters to feel oppressed and frustrated - they could even result in an outburst one day.

A core red-shirt leader in Roi Et, Nisit Sintuprai, told the media after his release from detention last week that he doubted whether the military would be able to neutralise the colour-coded conflict. He said it was based on political ideology, and said the military could not destroy people's beliefs.

"The reconciliation centres should unite [people with] different beliefs and make them live together peacefully. Give them space and treat them with equal fairness," Nisit said.

Reconciliation would be only achieved if groups of different political ideologies were able to stay together peacefully. Changing their political beliefs or brainwashing them would not be successful in a deeply divided society.

The key is to provide space for all deeply divided political ideologies and let them live together - with each side learning to respect different opinions and how to live together despite these differences. Another important aspect will be how fairly and equally the coup-makers treat both sides, so neither side feels they are being treated unfairly.

However, things are always easier said than done - and that includes Prayuth's reconciliation plan.

It'll be a challenging task for the junta chief.


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