Divisions over how to handle the Preah Vihear issue dominate headlines, and authorities make it clear Bangkok will remain under emergency rule.
And with two recent bomb explosions and the discovery of another unexploded bomb in a car, Bangkok is expected to remain under emergency rule for a while longer.
Thailand may have won the first round of the battle of wits with Cambodia in the international arena, with the World Heritage Committee deferring, until its meeting next year in Bahrain, consideration of Cambodia’s plan to manage Preah Vihear temple, known to Thais as Khao Phra Viharn, and its surrounding area.
But the battle at home between groups of people sharing different opinions on the same contentious issue has just started.
The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) plans to rally in front of Government House this Saturday to put pressure on the Abhisit government to revoke the memorandum of understanding signed between Bangkok and Phnom Penh in 2000 during Chuan Leekpai’s Democrat government.
The PAD claims that the document has put Thailand at a disadvantage and that it amounts to acceptance of the French map which places the disputed 4.6 square kilometre area around the temple claimed by Thailand under Cambodian sovereignty.
The Abhisit government appears reluctant to respond to the PAD’s demand. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva denied that the MoU has caused Thailand to lose sovereignty over the overlapping area. He also insisted that the document was used in contesting Cambodia’s (successful) attempt to register the temple as a World Heritage site.
However, PAD’s move was interpreted by critics as part of a political strategy to discredit the Democrat Party ahead of the Bangkok city and district council elections on Aug 29.
The New Politics Party, the PAD's political arm, is expected to run candidates against both the Democrats and opposition Puea Thai Party, even though the party made a last-minute withdrawal from the constituency 6 by-election last month. Democrat candidate Panich Vikitseth won the by-election, defeating Puea Thai candidate Korkaew Pikulthong by a margin of just 14,000 votes.
Two bomb explosions in Bangkok - one in front of Big C department store in Ratchaprasong on July 25 and the second in front of ////// Power duty-free complex in Soi Rangnam on July 30 – have prompted authorities to again beef up security in the capital as they intensify their hunt for those behind the bombings.
Pol Lt-Gen Santharn Chayanont, commissioner of metropolitan police, caused an uproar among retired generals associated with the red-shirt movement when he blamed the attacks on men loyal to the late Maj-Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol, aka Seh Daeng and some “old men” he accused of pulling the strings from behind.
No other names were mentioned, but when asked by reporters, Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the chairman of Puea Thai and often suspected of having a role in most of the bomb explosions in the city, said he felt it was a bit cruel to put the blame on man like him.
“Perhaps not me. I am just 21 – that's 21 years before I reach 100 years old,” he quipped.
Police have questioned more than 40 people but warrants were issued for the arrest of only two individuals, Kittisak Soomsri and Seksan Vorapiticharoenkul, suspected of involvement in a car bomb seized in Kok Kram area. A red-shirt guard, Sorathien Singkanya, has also been arrested.
With the two explosions and the discovery of another bomb inside a car, security authorities have warned there could be more bomb attacks, including car bombs, in the capital this month. They put the blame on underground elements or some hard-core red-shirt elements.
Red-shirt co-leader Jatuporn Prompan dismissed the warning of more bomb attacks in Bangkok as just a ploy to justify the extension of the emergency decree in the capital.
The cabinet on Tuesday approved the Interior Ministry’s proposal to set up a 77th province, Bung Karn. The new province will comprise seven districts to be excised from Nong Khai province -- So Phisai, Seka, Porn Charoen, Pak Kard, Bung Kong Luang, Bung Khla and Sivalai -- and will have a population of about 300,000 people.
The reason given for the splitting Nong Khai in two is that Nong Khai is too big and some of the districts are so far away from the provincial capital that it is way too inconvenient for people with business in the provincial capital.
The cabinet also agreed to maintain the value-added tax (VAT) at 7 per cent for another two years, to allow the economy to recover steadily without affecting government revenue.
The 7 per cent VAT was imposed over a decade agin and was due to expire on Sept 30.
With two months to go before the new military reshuffle takes effect, most newspapers this week speculated about the men likely to assume the top posts in the three armed forces, especially the top five in the army.
Reports said Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the incumbent deputy army commander—in-chief, would be the new army chief succeeding Gen Anupong Paojinda. The other top four are: Gen Thirawat Boonyapradob, deputy army-in-chief; Lt-Gen Dapong Rattanasuwan, army chief-of-staff; Lt-Gen Pichet Visaijorn and Lt-Gen Thanongsak Apirakyothin, both assistant commanders-in-chief.
Critics said that promotion list signals the return of the military as a powerful factor in the local political equation.
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