Bangkok: Thailand’s powerful army chief has warned that opposing groups are mobilising to fight each other and his country faces collapse unless a political crisis that has dragged on for three months is urgently addressed.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha said in a rare television address that if there is further loss of life “the country will definitely collapse and there will not be any winners or losers”.
He said military intelligence suggested there were many armed groups assembling, including those involved in bloodshed in the capital in 2010, an apparent reference to pro-government red shirts.
Thailand’s National Human Rights Commissioner Niran Pitakwatchara also warned the country was on the brink of civil war.
“If the situation goes on like this, the country will collapse,” he said.
Red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan has announced that supporters of besieged prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra will make their biggest move next month as legal action is taken against her over a controversial subsidy scheme for farmers.
“If we don’t come out now while the government is still the winner then the country will go the way of the anmart (elite),” he said.
But military sources say General Prayuth has asked Ms Yingluck to persuade the red shirts not to mass in Bangkok because of fears of clashes with anti-government protesters who are backed by mysterious, highly-trained gunmen who many observers believe are soldiers.
The men have fought running battles with police, raising concern about a potentially dangerous rift between police and the military.
General Prayuth’s comments followed a sharp escalation of bombings and shootings in the conflict that has so far left 20 people dead and almost 800 injured.
Analysts saw his comments as a signal to anti-government protesters they cannot rely on the military to stage a coup as it has done 18 times since the 1930s.
General Prayuth said the military does not support any side but repeatedly referred to the “constitution” and the responsibility of the government to enforce laws.
Anti-government protesters have for weeks blockaded government departments and shut down parts of Bangkok to cripple the government, which was democratically-elected in mid-2011.
Protest leaders are wanted for treason but Thailand’s politicised courts have refused to approve arrest warrants for some of them.
General Prayuth said “many sides” would like to see the use of force to settle the crisis.
“I would urge you to reconsider, compose yourself and ask yourselves whether this would end peacefully,” he said.
Reading from a prepared statement, General Prayuth said the army was collecting evidence against those responsible for violence, which included the deaths of three children last weekend.
“Someone must be held responsible for serious acts but it doesn’t mean the military can use force to resolve the situation because the current conflict occurs at numerous levels and involves officers and many groups of civilians,” he said.
“If the military is used to try to solve the problem … laws and the constitution will have to be nullified,” he said.
“Many parties may want to use this method but let us reconsider and come to our senses as to whether the problem can be resolved through peaceful means or not.”
General Prayuth urged all sides to hold talks as soon as possible.
Ms Yingluck said in a separate interview that “there is nothing better than all sides coming together”.
“When violence is used the pain will be felt by the whole nation,” she said.
But protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, who has declined repeated requests to meet Ms Yingluck, continued his attacks on her, claiming her condemnation of the weekend’s violence was insincere.
Mr Suthep, a former deputy prime minister in a military-backed government, said if armed red shirts came to Bangkok security authorities, not his supporters, would have to deal with them.
The conflict in broad terms pits two groups of Thai elites against each other, one led by Ms Yingluck’s elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra and the other backed by Bangkok’s middle class and royalists.
Mr Thaksin,a former prime minister forced from office in a 2006 coup, lives in exile to avoid a two-year jail sentence for corruption.
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