Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Army chief Prayuth met by angry red-shirts

Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was confronted by angry red-shirt people in flood-stricken Pathum Thani province while he was inspecting troops making sandbag barriers to protect them from rising waters on Wednesday.
The army chief was traveling by army truck to see the flood situation first hand.

Local flood victims who are supporters of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra loudly berated him over the military's crackdown on red-shirt demonstrators last year as he drove past.
Photo by Thiti Wannamontha
"I am hurt and frustrated. I would like to have pulled over and call out to them, asking why they act this way," the army chief said later.

"Have some respect for soldiers. Why do they hate soldiers? I am here to help all people without discrimination. I am a soldier and do not take sides.

"Do not bring politics into the act of bringing assistance to people in need," Gen Prayuth said.

He repeated that he was upset, but said he had to exercise patience.

The army chief asked all parties to join hands in helping the flood victims and put aside any conflicts.

"The soldiers are exhausted and have not rested. We are helping flood victims. Please sympathise with the soldiers. People must also help them make the sandbag walls. We need hundreds of thousands of sandbags. People should love their soldiers," Gen Prayuth said.

"There are not enough soldiers. People must help. If you need help from soldiers, please tell the government to increase the number of soldiers," Gen Prayuth said. He said there were only 250,000 soldiers in Thailand, but actually the country needed 450,000 soldiers to fullfil all its tasks.

The army chief said over 200 soldiers from the Army Air Defence Command were putting 300,000 sandbags in place to save Bang Bua Thong Hospital in Nonthaburi from serious flooding. The floodwalls had collapsed at 30 spots there.

He would also assign specialists from military psychological operations units to counsel flood victims and help ease their stress.

Meanwhile, United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship chairwoman Thida Thavornseth said red-shirt supporters will begin flood relief operations on Friday.

Ms Thida said a concert would be held at the Imperial Department Store at Lat Phrao in Bangkok and another in Nakhon Ratchasima to garner donations on Oct 14.

A centre to receive flood donations would also be set up at the Imperial Department Store, Lat Phrao and Ngam Wong Wan branches. The centres would remain open in the long run.

From Oct 15 the red shirts would distribute donated products in flood-hit areas in Lop Buri, Chai Nat, Nakhon Sawan and other provinces as determined by local red-shirt leaders, she said.

"The flood situation is now critical, but it is also an opportunity for us to show society that the red-shirts are full of spirit and friendly to people of all colour codes," Ms Thida said.

Ms Thida said society should be more open to opposing arguments. The UDD wanted the Defence Ministry Administration Act and more than 100 other laws enacted after the Sept 19, 2006 coup abolished.

UDD spokesman Worawut Wichaidit thanked opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva for visiting the national flood relief centre, saying that it was a good sign for the country.
Robert Amsterdam (Photo REUTERS)
However, he said the Democrat Party should learn when to keep quiet because a few days earlier its members questioned why Jatuporn Prompan, a UDD leader, paid no attention to the flooding but went to open a red-shirt village in Udon Thani instead.

Foreign lawyer Robert Amsterdam, who has been retained by ousted prime minister Thaksin, said on Wednesday he was glad to be visiting Thailand again.

He said it was very important to establish truth of what happened during last year's bloodshed, when so many people lost their lives, otherwise democracy would not evolve in Thailand. The soldiers involved could not be left unpunished. There should not be laws to allow a coup to happen, Mr Amsterdam said.

He said soldiers should not be allowed to make political comments, but he frequently heard Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief, talk about Thai political issues.

Mr Amsterdam said he recently visited some red-shirt people in prison, and they were in a very poor condition.

They should not have been jailed on security-related charges, but should have been allowed bail, Mr Amsterdam added.

Democrat list MP Vachara Phetthong said had sent a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung asking him to order police to arrest Mr Amsterdam.

He said Mr Amsterdam is the subject of a lese majeste complaint filed with Crime Suppression Division police on Feb 19 against him over contents in his book "Massacre in Bangkok".

Mr Vachara said Mr Amsterdam had travelled to Thailand and was seen at a Bangkok prison visiting some red-shirts in detention.

Since Mr Amsterdam is the subject of lese majeste complaint filed with police, he should be arrested.

The opposition MP said his letter to Mr Chalerm, who is in charge of the Royal Thai Police Office, asked him to order acting police chief Gen Priewpan Damapong to order the CSD or local police to arrest the man.

"If the police and Mr Chalerm do not do this, they could be charged with neglect of duty in violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code," Mr Vachara said.
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