- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thailand’s government recently proposed a reconciliation plan aimed at settling the country’s largest and bloodiest protests in decades, but the plan has few backers.

The plan calls for addressing the income gap between rich and poor; preventing political parties from using the monarchy as a tool in political conflicts; reviewing the constitution; barring the media from airing reports that provoke conflict; and investigating violence that racked the country from March to May.

Kiat Sittheeamorn, special envoy of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, said in an interview with The Washington Times on Friday that while some opposition leaders had had a change of heart about the use of violence, none had so far offered his support for the government plan.

Mr. Kiat was dispatched to Washington by the prime minister to brief the Obama administration and members of Congress on the Thai government’s efforts to restore peace in the country. Following his meetings with senior officials at the State Department and White House, Mr. Kiat said everyone was supportive of the reconciliation plan.

The plan was first announced by Mr. Abhisit on May 3. It was promptly rejected by the opposition Red Shirts. An army crackdown during a showdown with protesters left at least 88 dead and cost the Thai economy $5 billion in lost income.

Mr. Kiat said the plan offered by Mr. Abhisit last week was no different from the one in May.

“We tried to identify the issues that may be a point of conflict within our society,” he said. “It is important that all parties involved sign up for it and work together to achieve these objectives.”

Ernest Bower, head of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Southeast Asia program, said the reconciliation plan is “comprehensive on paper; but in reality, there are doubts about implementation.”

“Although protests have been cleared from the streets, the country remains deeply divided. Walking around Bangkok gives one the feel of being in the eye of the storm — a false and temporary calm undermined by palpable tension,” Mr. Bower said in an e-mail interview from Thailand.

The opposition is demanding early elections. Mr. Abhisit’s term ends in November 2011. Mr. Kiat said a decision to hold early elections will depend on the progress made in the reconciliation process.

The government, he said, wants to first ensure that all parties can campaign without intimidation. “If these conditions are met, the prime minister is willing to sacrifice his term to call for early elections,” he said.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is widely acknowledged as a main force behind the Red Shirts. While Mr. Kiat said reconciliation will involve all stakeholders in the country, the government has not extended its offer to Mr. Thaksin, who has been convicted of abuse of power and is currently a fugitive.

The Thai government’s probe of Mr. Thaksin’s “war on drugs” also is a point of contention. Mr. Kiat denied that this investigation was reopened, and said the probe had been ongoing, and a report is now ready. He said he was unaware of its findings.

Mr. Bower said the government’s “retroactive focus on Thaksin’s sins of the past leaves many here wondering if the focus of this period of relative calm will be revenge and not retribution.”

“It is a high-risk proposition by the government,” he said of the investigation.

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