Military

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Thais Fear Renewed Conflict as Government Plans Reconciliation

Daniel Schearf | Bangkok 27 May 2010

Thailand is recovering from its worst political violence in decades, after soldiers forced an end to a two-month anti-government protest Bangkok. But there are concerns of renewed unrest as the government plans reconciliation efforts to heal the divisions.

Most traces of the burned tires and street barricades are gone from Bangkok, days after soldiers cleared out the protest camp.

But the political and social wounds are not healed.

Malai, a cook in the Bon Khai neighborhood that saw much of the fighting, says the country is too divided and she worries that the unrest is not over. She is worried that, if street violence breaks out again, their restaurant could be damaged and she would have no way to earn a living.

Protesters set fire to more than 30 buildings, after soldiers moved to end their occupation of a commercial district.

The government accuses protest leaders of terrorism and plans to arrest of several hundred protesters, some of whom it says are armed.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn says the government will call elections, which was the protesters' key demand after security is fully restored.

"On the contrary, if we have election[s] today nobody can guarantee a peace, stable, election or even a stable government after that," said Panitan. "We need to sit down and work out the common structure, common rules, a mechanism that prevent[s] the conflict after election[s]."

The government says there will be an independent investigation of clashes since March, which left about 90 people dead and 2,000 others wounded - most of them civilians.

But political analysts say the protesters have little trust in Bangkok politicians.

Chantana Banpasirichote, a professor of political science at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, says stability depends on the government showing the protesters, known as the red shirts, that they will have justice and a voice in politics.

"So, I think if the government mishandle[s] this again, instead of accommodating the red shirt[s] into, back into the normal political procedure, allow them a lot of flexibilities and access to media and political resources, then I think it [stability] would [be] going down," said Chantana.

The protesters say the military and Bangkok elite conspired to remove their elected leaders from power.

They point to the 2006 coup against their patron, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and court rulings and deal making that brought the current government to power.

Chantana say the political system needs reform that forces long-term cooperation among political parties, rather than quick fixes.



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