(3 March) The Royal Thai Army says it will take actions against what the top brass misunderstood as a separatist group in northern Thailand.
Lt.Gen. Preecha Chan-Ocha, commander of the Third Region Army, told reporters on Sunday that he has been instructed by his brother and the Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha, to strictly monitor the movements of an activist group called Sor Por Por Lanna.
Lanna is the traditional name of a number of provinces which are now incorporated into northern Thailand, while Sor Por Por evokes the abbreviated official name of Laos in Thai language: Sor Por Por Laos – People′s Democratic Republic of Laos.
According to an army spokesman, some pro-government Redshirts activists in the northern province of Chiang Mai were seen waving red-white banners bearing the words "Sor Por Por Lanna", which he found it very inappropriate, as the banner suggested that the Redshirts were advocating for a separate state called People′s Democratic Republic of Lanna.
"It′s illegal and it′s not constructive at all," said the spokesman, Col. Winthai Suvaree.
He warned that members of the public should think twice before joining the group, since advocating separatist ideas is illegal under the Thai laws. "Freedom to express different ideas is the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, but a separatist expression is not," Col. Winthai said.
Gen. Prayuth has already instructed military representatives in Chiang Mai and Phayao to press charge against Sor Por Por Lanna, Lt.Gen. Preecha announced.
The lieutenant general accused the group of violating Article 113 of the Thai Criminal Codes, which bans any action or threat to overthrow the administrative regime or separate any territory of the kingdom.
If found guilty, the accused could face life sentence or even death penalty.
Lt.Gen. Preecha added that Sor Por Por Lanna might also be convicted under Article 114, which criminalised attempts to conspire in treason against the state.
He named two local Redshirts groups – Love Chiang Mai 51, and Phayao Redshirts – as core elements of Sor Por Por Lanna.
A number of media, Thai and foreign, have previously voiced speculation that Redshirts in their northern and northeastern strongholds of Thailand are gearing up for a separatist campaign in response to the perceived injustice they have faced at the hands of Bangkok elite.
Some Redshirts also publicly suggested that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra move the capital city to Chiang Mai and declare herself as the only legitimate government should the military side with ongoing anti-government protests and stage a coup against her administration.
Northern and northeastern Thailand is known as heartlands of Ms. Yingluck′s supporters, while much of her opposition hails from urban Bangkok and the south of the country.
"Let me stress that the military has performed its duty to the fullest. We have never taken any side," Lt.Col. Preecha said, "But I admit the Third Region [military district] has seen movements that might mislead the people, especially the Sor Por Por Lanna group".
He also vowed to conduct a meeting with Governors of 17 provinces and organise a special operation to combat the separatist sedition allegedly advocated by Sor Por Por Lanna.
However, a quick search on the Internet would have informed the army top brass that Sor Por Por Lanna is far from a republican Leninist revolutionary movement.
Sor Por Por Lanna is in fact a local chapter of Bangkok-based Sor Por Por, the Assembly For Defence of Democracy (AFDD), which was formed by a group of academics in late December to support the 2 February general election.
The group was established as a response to the anti-government People′s Committee for Absolute Democracy With the King As Head of State (PCAD), who sought to boycott the 2 February election and replace Ms. Yingluck′s government with an unelected "People′s Council".
In a statement released yesterday, the AFDD affirms its stance as a group to campaign for a democratic transition under the electoral system.
The AFDD has no separatist agenda, the statement says, and the group also requested the military to review its intelligence units which might have been responsible for such "distorting" information.
Nevertheless, the AFDD acknowledges that some citizens in the north and northeast are starting to voice their opinions that their regions should be independent from Bangkok and the south.
"Although Sor Por Por recognises that such notion is neither an achievable goal nor a solution to solve the present crisis in Thai society, Sor Por Por would like to highlight the importance of the perspective, as it reflects the bitterness felt by many people toward the political injustice which has been occurring since 2006 military coup," the statement says.
It adds, "Instead of seeking legal actions against ordinary citizens, those in power and all political groups should seriously consider the problem, namely by questioning what has caused these people to feel in such way".
"Sor Por Por believes that questioning and answering the issues with open heart is the only way to keep Thailand from fragmenting any further than the present situation".