BANGKOK — The Royal Thai Army has warned that the military is willing to step in to bring about "order" if Thailand’s political unrest continues to escalate.
The warning was broadcast live on the army-owned TV Channel 5 this afternoon, hours after unidentified militants fired grenades and automatic rifles at an anti-government rally in Bangkok, killing at least three people and injuring over 20.
The statement, which was issued on behalf of army commander-in-chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, strongly condemned the attack:
"The public should condemn all sides who employ violence and use military-grade weapons on innocent citizens, and the public should send information or clues [concerning the perpetrators] to the Army."
The statement praised all efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the political crisis, but also noted, "however, legal channels and dialogues might not achieve much in this period of time, because there are many debates and disputes. [The efforts] may be too slow to respond to the situation, which indicates a rise in violence."
The army went on to issue its strongest warning of a military intervention since anti-government protesters first took to the streets last November:
"We would like to warn all groups, especially those who employ violence with military-grade weapons on innocent citizens, to cease these actions immediately. If the situation continues to be marked with violence, it will be necessary for the military to launch a full-scale effort to end the violence, in order to maintain order [and safety] in lives and properties of the people."
"If the situation escalates to the point that unrest breaks out, for the sake of public order, the army may be required to deploy the armed force to resolve the situation. In that stage, if any individual or any group of individuals or any armed group responds to the army [with violence] or continues to harm the innocent people, those individuals will be subject to extreme measures of suppression under the laws by the security forces, in which the wrongdoers will not be able to seek any compensation."
Although the army's statement did not clarify under what legal provisions the military would launch these "extreme measures of suppression," some observers believe the statement refers to a possible invocation of Martial Law. Under Thai law, commanders of the armed forces are authorized to unilaterally impose Martial Law in the event of unrest or foreign invasion.
The statement also warned against any defamation of the army, which will be taken as "a slandering of dignity and pride of the army. All soldiers will not accept such gesture."
The statement added that the army "belongs to the Nation, the Religion, the Monarchy, and all Thai citizens. It does not belong to any certain side. However, the army will defend dignity, pride, and uphold the public order of the nation and the people in the fullest capacity when the need arises."
The army made no mention of the current caretaker government, suggesting that they may be willing to deploy troops without the consent of acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisarn.
The statement is bound to raise the ire of many pro-government supporters, who have long viewed Gen. Prayuth and the army as sympathetic to the anti-government cause.
Since the current crisis erupted last November, Gen. Prayuth has refused to rule out the possibility of military coup, raising fears that the army is contemplating yet another coup against the elected government.
Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to whom the current administration is allied, was ousted by the army in 2006.
Thailand has experienced eleven successful military coups since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
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