BANGKOK — In a press briefing today on the military's rationale for declaring martial law, the commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army took an aggressive tone with reporters who asked him about the country's future.
"Didn't you hear what I just said?" Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha lashed at a reporter when she asked him how long martial law was expected to last. "When peace and safety returned to the country, when there's stability, we will repeal the martial laws," the army commander-in-chief answered.
When another reporter asked whether the declaration of the martial law means the military can now wield authority without the government's approval, Gen. Prayuth responded, "Where is the government? Where are they now?"
He continued, "Let me put it this way, I will let the officials work. I won't be interfering with the government. The army and bureaucrats will continue to work. Don't worry. Things are still normal in this country. We will try not to violate human rights — too much. We will try not to cause inconvenience to the public."
The press conference is the first time Gen. Prayuth, who is now chairman of the recently-installed Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC), spoke publicly since the martial law was unexpectedly invoked at 3:00 a.m. this morning.
Prior to the press conference, Gen. Prayuth met with state officials and heads of government agencies at the Army Club on Viphavadee Road, which the POMC has adopted as a temporary headquarters, to discuss the solutions for the current political crisis.
Gen. Prayuth also insisted that putting the country under martial law was necessary to prevent possible "bloodshed" between pro- and anti-government protesters who are both rallying in the capital city.
On Saturday, the anti-government People's Committee for Absolute Democracy With the King As Head of State (PCAD) announced plans to launch "one last fight" to topple the government of caretaker Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisarn and replace it with an unelected "People's Council" headed by an appointed "nonpartisan" PM.
The Redshirts, who have been organising their own rally on Aksa Avenue in western Bangkok, adamantly oppose the plan and have warned to "escalate" their protests if an unelected Prime Minister is installed.
To defuse the conflict between the rival protest groups, Gen. Prayuth said the army may summon both groups to meet with the military for a dialogue aimed at resolving their disputes.
When a reporter asked Gen. Prayuth when the meeting will occur, he responded,"They will come here anyway whenever I tell them to.”
He added, "I will summon all sides. All sides. We will talk with all sides. Don't ask me what sides we will talk to. We will summon all sides. That's why we need power under martial laws, okay? Otherwise who would listen to us?"
The caretaker government has yet to publicly respond to the military's declaration of the martial law.
An abbreviated transcript of the Q&A between Gen. Prayuth and reporters:
(You can watch the video in Thai here)
Reporter: Commander, what is the time frame of the martial laws?
General Prayuth Chan-oha: Didn't you hear what I just said? When peace and safety returns to the country, when there's stability, we will repeal the martial laws.
Reporter: So if peace doesn't return in 3 or 6 months, the martial laws–
Prayuth: I don't think it would reach that point.
Reporter: Will the army serve as mediator and invite both sides for a dialogue?
Prayuth: That matter is still under discussion. It's something we have to do, okay? Today we invited bureaucrats for dialogue. In the future we will invite the adversaries in this conflict. We will do this under an atmosphere of peace. If there is no peace, if there are still attempts to incite violence or chaos, then there will be no way to reach understanding. Therefore, all sides must stop first. Otherwise there will be no understanding.
Reporter: Will the army invite them soon to defuse the situation?
Prayuth: They will come here anyway whenever I tell them to.
Reporter: You mean you will summon Kamnan [Suthep Thaugsuban] and–
Prayuth: I will summon all sides. All sides. We will talk with all sides. Don't ask me what sides we will talk to. We will summon all sides. That's why we need power under martial laws, okay? Otherwise who would listen to us?
Reporter: What about the government, the Senate —
Prayuth: Alright, alright, we will take it step by step. It's my business. Don't ask me everything. If you ask me everything, nothing will get done. No one can answer about the future; there are things no one can answer. Just wait and see what will happen. But I can assure you we will not let bloodshed happen in Thailand.
Reporter: Do you think there should be election?
Prayuth: I suggest you go visit a doctor and do something about your ear.
Reporter: What is the status of the government at the moment?
Prayuth: Well, you should go… You already know the answer. Why are you asking me this?
Reporter: I don't know the answer. That is why I am asking you.
Prayuth: Go ask someone who knows the answer. I am here to maintain peace and order.
Reporter: So the army can do things without having to seek approval from the government?
Prayuth: Where is the government? Where are they now? Well, they should continue working. For the country. Working. Okay, let me put it this way, I will let the officials work. I won't be interfering with the government. The army and bureaucrats will continue to work. Don't worry. Things are still normal in this country. We will try not to violate human rights — too much. We will try not to cause inconvenience to the public. There are still many provisions in the martial laws we have not used.
Reporter: Commander, will curfew be imposed?
Prayuth: I am talking about that right now. I have not imposed it.
Reporter: Is there a possibility of curfew?
Prayuth: Do you want me to impose one? I will place a curfew on the media first. Alright, that's it. Thank you all of you. And please give your support to the military and the police.
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