Army on alert for poll unrest

Prayuth readies troops in and around Bangkok

The army is gearing up for possible unrest as the political situation may turn ugly after the July3 election, an army source says.

As the country counts down to the general election, army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha has put security authorities on alert.

The source said the army chief has ordered all units in and around Bangkok and those under the 1st Army Region to prepare 200 companies of troops.

Security officials are expected to gather today to discuss preparations for the situation after the election, the source said.

It is speculated that the July poll which is just 10 days away has a high potential for strife and possibly violence due to the country’s protracted political conflicts and divisions.

Gen Prayuth himself once said that forming a new government after the poll would be a hard-fought battle.

Maj Gen Kampanart Ruddit, commander of the 1st Division of the Royal Guards, admitted that soldiers are being prepared, but said this does not signify that trouble lies ahead.

“There’s no sign. There’s no implication. It is a rehearsal for our men so that they fully understand how to respond,” he said.

Maj Gen Kampanart said the rules of engagement would be reviewed and revised if necessary to ensure they were in compliance with the law.

In an effort to help soldiers better handle potential trouble, the 1st Division of the Royal Guards yesterday held a seminar on approaches to handling protests under the Internal Security Act and emergency decree.

Guest speakers were invited from various government agencies including police investigators, a judge, a prosecutor and a human rights specialist.

The session was joined by more than 100 commanding officers of military companies and battalions that took part in the crackdowns on red shirt protesters in April and May last year.

Addressing the seminar, Maj Gen Kampanart said the seminar was aimed at boosting soldiers’ legal knowledge so they could perform effectively.

He said that troops were usually held to account for rights abuses when assigned to handle security situations.

Pol Maj Gen Piya Uthayo, commander of the administrative office of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, said yesterday public protests have changed and developed since 1996.

He said that these days a public protest has three components _ leaders, allies and forces which came into the picture around 2003-2004.

He said a specific law to deal with public protests seems to be a must to avoid unnecessarily invoking the emergency decree and internal security law.

Pol Lt Col Pong-in Intarakhaow of the Department of Special Investigation, said based on the department’s investigations into violent elements in protests, he agreed that a specific law needs to be enacted and enforced.

“Politics-induced security threats are here to stay after July3 no matter who wins the poll. There’s something waiting to happen,” said Pol Lt Col Pong-in who is in charge of the ongoing investigation into alleged weapons training of Thais in Cambodia.

“After July3, be prepared. The criminal code, the internal security law and the emergency decree provide you protection if you follow the steps. When there is a situation, it is best to avoid the use of force,” he said.

Chairath Khanitbutr, a legal specialist from the National Anti-Corruption Commission, said security authorities face a daunting task both during and after an operation. While they have to avoid or minimise losses and keep themselves alive, they may also face investigation afterwards.

Mr Chairath said the rules of engagement are guidelines to be strictly followed and can be used as a defence if they face an inquiry.

Pattarasak Wansaeng, a senior judge attached to the Office of the Supreme Court President, said that legal mechanisms are in place to protect authorities on duty.

He cited the right to self-defence under Section 68 of the criminal code.

“But officers are frightened. I think they should get rid of this fear and think about their duty to the majority. I believe these people will be with you,” he said.

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