วันจันทร์ที่ 17 พฤษภาคม พ.ศ. 2553
Never too late for peace talks
The televised appearance of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Saturday was welcome, but late in the developing crisis. His defence of the army's actions against protesters was necessary if late. Mr Abhisit said authority must be re-established, even if there are human losses. What should cause concern was what the prime minister left out. There was no talk of any alternative to the military actions which began last Thursday. More troubling still, the premier left the impression he has given no thought to what he expects after the army achieves victory against the protesters in Bangkok _ or even what he thinks victory is.
The rather strong if unemotional justification for ordering the army to oppose the protesters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) is well taken. Mr Abhisit is certainly correct, as this page has consistently stated, that strong-arm and lawless actions by mobs cannot be permitted. The prime minister rightly won strong criticism when he failed to stand up to the red shirts at key moments in this months-long crisis. He got it right on March 11 when he said that the red shirts had the right to protest if they obeyed the law. They did not, the government failed to enforce the law, and after 67 days, Thais are dying in the streets of gunfire and grenades.
In his too brief speech to the nation, Mr Abhisit's focus on security was understandable but far too limited. The nation did not have to hear about ''losses will have to be endured''. Every newspaper, TV news broadcast and radio talk show reminds us of that. The duty of the prime minister and his government is to protect all Thai citizens. What everyone wanted to hear from Mr Abhisit was how the country can get out of this mess and once again move ahead. And the prime minister failed to deliver.
He does not need to backtrack, or to revisit his now abandoned offer to hold a national election on Nov 14. But as the political leader of the country, Mr Abhisit owes it to everyone to present his vision of his plans in the near future. He has never said much, but he should state how he feels the continuing, murderous violence in Bangkok should end. For certain, the red shirts are not simply going to fold tents, return home and pick up their lives. The government must envision and present a path to peace, followed by an election, followed by civilised, democratic rule.
The alternatives are fairly clear. One is the continuation of murders, violence and guerrilla battles. Another is a totalitarian takeover and an attempt to subdue the opposition with even more force. Mr Abhisit is correct to call on the security forces to halt the occupation of major parts of Bangkok by lawless mobs. He is wrong to ignore the strong desire of almost the entire country to halt the violence by mutual agreement.
Mr Abhisit needs to make it clear that his office door always is open, along with other lines of communication, to any opposition leaders willing to discuss a peaceful end to this crisis. Indeed, it was barely 10 days ago that it seemed such an agreeable solution was at hand. Rather than exploit the apparent rift in the ranks of the red shirts, the government and security forces ended contact, and cancelled all previous agreements.
The need for the government to stand up to the red shirt mob is unarguable. But Mr Abhisit and other ministers should make it clear they hope to end this deadly confrontation before it worsens. The red shirts need to step back, end their two-month sit-in and return Bangkok to its citizens. The government must encourage them to do so.