Abhisit gears up to battle murder rap

Former PM says charges are politically motivated

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva says he would be ready to accept the death sentence if it was handed down to him as a result of the investigation into his government's crackdown on red-shirt protesters in 2010.

He was speaking after he and Democrat MP Suthep Thaugsuban were charged on Thursday by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) with authorising the killing of anti-government protesters during the April-May 2010 political violence in Bangkok.

Mr Suthep was deputy prime minister under the Abhisit government and headed the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), which was set up to handle the protests.

Both are expected to turn themselves in to the DSI on Thursday.

The DSI's charges were based on a Criminal Court's ruling on the death of taxi driver Phan Khamkong during the political unrest.

Mr Abhisit said the charges laid against him and Mr Suthep were to pressure him and his party to support the government's proposed reconciliation law. He insisted that his government's action was to restore peace and order and was in line with the law.

Moreover, the red-shirt protest was a breach of the constitution, he said.

Mr Abhisit said he and Mr Suthep agreed to be investigated and tried in court after the military's actions resulted in deaths and injuries.

He said there would be no negotiations for his own benefit.

"Let justice run its course. No matter where it leads, we will accept it, be it a life sentence or a death sentence," Mr Abhisit said.

Mr Suthep said yesterday the Democrat leader was dragged into the issue to give the government leverage.

"Pressing charges against me as the CRES director is not enough, so they have to drag Mr Abhisit in as well, even though he had nothing to do with the CRES," Mr Suthep said.

He insisted he would not yield to the government's pressure.

Mr Abhisit also slammed DSI chief Tarit Pengdith's claim that the Democrat-led government and red shirts should both be held accountable to ensure justice. He said Mr Tarit's reasoning was "bizarre".

"It is quite strange to indict two parties involved in the same conflict for the sake of justice," he said.

Mr Tarit said yesterday there was no reason to investigate his own actions as a member of CRES because he never took part in any CRES meetings that involved military operations.

"The decision to use force was made by the committee in charge of operations, and the decision makers were Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep," Mr Tarit said.

He said that not all staff working for CRES would be held accountable. They were following orders and were therefore protected by the law.

"I will be merely supervising the investigation team. I will not take part in the investigation," he said.

The DSI chief confirmed that Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep would report to the DSI to acknowledge the charges on Thursday.

Meanwhile, army commander-in-chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered army units to explain to the public what the military's role was during the 2010 political unrest in 2010, deputy army spokesman Winthai Suwari said yesterday.

Col Winthai said the DSI's decision to file charges against Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep might mislead the public about the army's role.

He said the army's operations during the protests were carried out according to the law and several soldiers were also killed and injured.

Col Winthai said the army had submitted evidence about attacks on soldiers to the DSI but no progress has been made in the cases.

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Writer: Manop Thip-Osod, King-Oua Laohong and Wassana Nanuam