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Talks offer glimmer of hope

PDRC-linked monk met with Somchai Wongsawat on Monday

A new round of talks between the government and the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) showed potential for a possible peaceful solution - as both sides agreed to end the violence. But further talks could be in jeopardy after one side broke a promise not to prematurely reveal the contents to the public.

In an attempt to break through the political impasse and stop the violence, Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn and deputy permanent secretary of justice Thawatchai Thaikhiew arranged a meeting on Monday at the Justice Ministry office in the Government Complex on Chaeng Wattana Road.

The two representatives at the meeting were Phra Buddha Issara, a leader of the PDRC, and Somchai Wongsawat, a key leader of the Pheu Thai Party and a former premier.

Phra Buddha Issara, in charge of the Chaeng Wattana rally, was the first to comment on the meeting. He posted on Facebook that his talks with former premier Somchai yielded a good sign although the latter lacked full power to make decisions.

"What we discussed was that an atmosphere healthy for negotiations must be created first. Not bombs, bombs. All parties must create the atmosphere for negotiations," he said.

The government only blamed the PDRC protesters, but the protesters were responding to what the government, which was equipped with weapons and legal power, had done to them, including imposing an emergency decree and unleashing the Department of Special Investigation against them, he said.

Somchai Wongsawat had asked whether it was a third party who shot at the protesters. The monk said there were only two parties and the protesters did not do it.

The monk asked Somchai to talk to the red shirts and Chalerm Yoobamrung, head of the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order. Somchai said Chalerm did not completely listen to either former premier Thaksin or his sister Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. And Somchai could talk to only some factions of the red shirts.

"Let's say you create the healthy atmosphere within three to five days. There must be no car bomb or M79 [grenade fired], then we talk again. If there is any [attack], then you're on your own. Don't blame me then," he wrote.

Phra Buddha Issara said he would refrain from disclosing what else they had discussed but said the next meeting would be on Monday or Tuesday next week.

Suthep Thaugsuban, who as secretary-general spearheads the PDRC movement, insisted he would not get involved in the negotiations but would not stop the monk from doing so.

Somchai Wongsawat later posted on his Facebook page that he agreed that problems should be ended in a peaceful way and there should not be any use of violence, war weapons or seizures of state offices or private companies.

He said he told Phra Buddha Issara that he and Pheu Thai would not be able to instruct red shirts to do or not to do anything.

Phra Buddha Issara came under criticism for his premature exposure of the talks. His counterpart also complained that it was a pity the monk revealed the talks on Facebook though they agreed not to say anything to the media. "What the monk posted was also incomplete and missed the point," Somchai said.

Writing on his Facebook page yesterday, Thawatchai, who was one of coordinators of the talks, said that although the meeting between the two men had opened a channel for both sides to learn the wishes of the other side, Phra Buddha Issara's premature comments could make future negotiations - if there are any - a hundred times more difficult for the parties in the conflict and for the coordinator.

He said that although the informal talk between the monk and Somchai was inconclusive, the search for a way out of the current political impasse was not easy and some of the talking process could not be done in public.

Election Commission member Somchai, who initiated and coordinated the talk, said the process would see the number of negotiators increasing to four in the next round and six in the third round, with two and then three negotiators on each side.

"If everything goes smoothly, the talks will be wrapped up in two weeks," he said.

The EC member said that although the nearly one-hour talk did not go into detail on the demands of either side, the two sides exchanged opinions straightforwardly and tried to come up with a method to seek a peaceful solution for the conflict.

He said although the former PM and the monk could not promise that they would be able to convince others on their side to agree with the talks, Monday's round at least sent a signal that if violence subsided in the next week, the process would continue to the second round.

He said the two were chosen to be the representatives because they were easy to talk to and were important figures.

The EC's Somchai said a new programme related to the EC's work would be launched on NBT at 8.30pm tonight and the first episode would be about the talks.

A Pheu Thai source, who asked not to be named, said that despite the disagreement from the red shirts, the Shinawatras wanted to negotiate as well as to push for the election. At least, they wanted to create the spirit of the election, claiming the poll would help solve the political conflict, so they let the EC member join in the talk and hold the programme on NBT.


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