Thailand reassures APEC that martial law ‘on way out’

Posted: 17 November 2006 2316 hrs

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Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont

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HANOI : Thailand’s post-coup foreign minister Nitya Pibulsonggram said
that martial law was on its way out as he sought to reassure Asia
Pacific leaders at a summit that all was well in the kingdom.

In an interview with AFP, Nitya said that martial law, imposed
after the bloodless September 19 coup, could be lifted within days.

Sitting in the dining room of an upmarket Hanoi hotel, the career
diplomat was upbeat about how army-installed Thai Prime Minister
Surayud Chulanont would be received by fellow leaders at the Asia
Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in the Vietnamese capital.

There had been speculation of a snub by Pacific Rim leaders here
including US President George W. Bush, but Nitya played down
suggestions that Thailand’s international standing had taken a

“People are concerned about what is happening in Thailand and I,
for one, would look upon their concern as coming from friends who have
high hopes and aspirations for us,” said Nitya, former ambassador to
the United States.

“They want to know where we are going and how we are going to get
there and when we are going back to full restoration of democracy.”

Sunday marks the two-month anniversary of the overthrow of former
prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and countries including the United
States have slammed the crackdown on civil liberties following the

“Let me talk about this month as being a possible goal to achieve,” Nitya said of lifting martial law.

“I think it is a matter of days rather than weeks.”

Analysts had warned that Bush may be reluctant to meet Surayud, a
former army chief, but the two will join a meeting with Southeast Asian
leaders on Saturday morning.

“We will probably seek the opportunity to tell all of our friends
… about what is happening in Thailand, to give them reassurances, and
to give them our expectations relating to the lifting of martial law,”
said Nitya.

Bush would have struggled to avoid Surayud. Under arrangements
based on alphabetical order of the 21 APEC members, the two will sit
next to each other at the leaders’ retreat.

In any case, Nitya insisted, the coup had not affected US-Thai relations.

“I have had talks with my US colleagues. We shared breakfast. There is
nothing untoward,” said Nitya, referring to a foreign ministers’
meeting here Thursday attended by US Secretary of State Condoleezza

He declined to call the September 19 military intervention a coup, instead labelling it a “regime change.”

But despite language familiar to the White House, the new Thai
government is unlikely to win its approval until martial law ends.

Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas said last week that it would
likely be lifted before Surayud arrived here in order to make
Thailand’s allies “more comfortable”.

But security officials in Bangkok said Thursday that they had
postponed the decision over fears that anti-coup protests could break
out, telling AFP that the ruling military was concerned about Thaksin’s
recent trips around Asia.

Thaksin, who had been living in self-imposed exile in London, on
Wednesday went to the Indonesian resort island of Bali, on a regional
trip that raised speculation he might try to return home.

The generals fear his return could spark an uprising among the
rural poor, many of whom are believed to still support the ex-premier.

Nevertheless Nitya, who has also served as Thailand’s ambassador to the United Nations, stressed martial law would soon be over.

“It’s on the way out, just wait and see,” he said.

– AFP /ls

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