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Top brass to listen but not talk at forum

Military chiefs have agreed to attend a forum today organised by the Thai Armed Forces to discuss political reform, but they will not share any ideas or raise any questions at the event, a senior military commander said yesterday.

The forum is being held at the main auditorium of the Armed Forces Directorate of Joint Civil Affairs at the Government Complex north of Bangkok, director-general Lt-General Harit Pumhiran said after setting up the venue.

It will be broadcast live on the military-run Channel 5 television station.

Suthep Thaugsuban, secretary-general of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protest group, had requested a discussion with armed forces leaders about political reform.

But the military has extended invitations to several key agencies, university deans, trade and business organisations and members of the Thai and foreign media to attend.

Harit did not mention any rules governing the forum, but called on the dialogue to be held in a reasonable and polite manner.

Defence Ministry permanent secretary General Nipat Thonglek said it would be "improper" for the military leaders to meet with Suthep only. "This is because the military should not be involved with politics," he said.

A forum involving different groups of people should be able to help reduce the political temperature, he added.

The pro-government red-shirt movement was reportedly invited to attend, but as of press time had not made an official statement on whether it would take part.

Red-shirt core leader Thida Thavornset said earlier that she had not received a written invitation, but would definitely not join the Suthep-led reform.

A new group of academics - the Assembly for the Protection of Democracy - will not send any representative to attend the military-hosted forum because they don't think it's the military's duty to do this, according to Chulalongkorn University political-science lecturer Puangthong Pawakaphan, who is part of the group.

She said the group's stance was that the political reform process should not result in postponement of the election, which is currently due to take place on February 2.

Suthep's PDRC said yesterday it would send some 20 representatives to take part in today's forum.

Three key figures from the PDRC - Sathit Wongnongtaey, Suriyasai Katasila and Akanat Promphan - will also attend a separate forum to be held by the Prime Minister's Office tomorrow at Queen Sirikit convention centre.

However, national police chief Gen Adul Sangsingkaew will not attend any forum Suthep attends, as he would have to arrest him, as the latter is wanted on an insurrection charge, Police Maj-General Piya Uthayo, spokesman for the government's Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order, said yesterday.


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