WARNING FROM SURAYUD:
Thaksin's return 'a threat'
Privy Council member says there could be clashes if ousted premier comes back; urges reconciliation
General Surayud Chulanont, a member of the Privy Council, has warned that if ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand, it could create further rifts in the country because there would be clashes between his supporters and opponents.
"I am concerned about national reconciliation," he said. "Just imagine the clash between rival camps should Thaksin choose to return to the country at this juncture," he said.
Surayud, meanwhile, would neither confirm nor deny news reports that he is a leading candidate for the post of interim prime minister.
"I am still sitting on the Privy Council and am duty-bound to observe its code of conduct," he said.
He said if the premiership offer were to come, he would have to think about it first.
"I am old now. After my retirement, I want to devote my life to promoting education, which is more suitable for a man of my age. Whoever becomes the new prime minister will have a difficult job. Since I have a lot of experience in dealing with national affairs, I would have to think about it carefully if I was offered the premier's job," he added.
Surayud said it is important for Thailand to accelerate the process of national reconciliation.
"Myself and several other people understand that supporters and opponents will clash on the day that Thaksin returns home. It would be a big commotion. Therefore, we want the military council to speed up the national reconciliation," he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Supachai Panitchpadki yesterday refused to comment on reports that he was another leading contender for the interim prime minister's seat, the Associated Press reported from Geneva.
Supachai was asked whether he was able to say anything to the people of Thailand about the speculation that he is a leading contender. "Not now, maybe later," he said.
He is former head of the World Trade Organisation and the current secretary-general of the UN Confer-ence on Trade and Development.
Thaksin is now taking refuge in London after losing power in a military coup last week. Earlier he said he missed Thailand and would like to return home, possibly after the formation of the interim government.
However, Thaksin's return seems almost out of the question as he and his former Cabinet members are under investigation over alleged corruption, abuse of power and lese majeste. The National Counter Corruption Commission and a panel probing the assets of the politicians, headed by Sawat Chotepanich, have been set up to go after the assets of the politicians in the former Thaksin government.
Between national reconciliation and Thailand's international image, the military rulers have now tilted toward supporting a candidate for the interim premiership who is capable of guarding national security and stability during this fragile period.
Therefore, Surayud might be a more suitable candidate for the premiership than Supachai, one of the members of the military council pointed out.
"Although Supachai might have an image that is more welcomed by the international community and might restore confidence in Thailand quickly, we think the most urgent task of the country is to restore national reconciliation," said the key member of the military council.
He added that Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the leader of the Council for Democratic Reform, had consulted with Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, the president of the Privy Council, over the prospects of approaching Surayud as the prime minister and that Prem appeared to have expressed no objection.
Surayud was Sonthi's boss when they served together in Lop Buri's Special Warfare Force. Sonthi has risen to the top of the military hierarchy partly due to support from Surayud.
Attempts to burn six schools, only three of which caught fire, in Kamphaeng Phet underlined the political fragility facing Thailand in the aftermath of the coup. In the Northeast, where supporters of the Thaksin regime remain strong, it is feared that activities aimed at destabilising the new interim government could be launched any time.
However, Surayud yesterday said he was optimistic the political crisis had bottomed out, paving the way for the restoration of an elected government. He also reminded the people about the challenges ahead.
"Given the present circumstances, I empathise with anyone in the hot seat of defending the country's reputation in the international community, and solving the myriad domestic problems," he said.
He said authorities should quickly reach out to foreign governments and explain about the peaceful transition of power.