Abhisit’s roadmap for peace, a “positive” step according to the archbishop of Bangkok
Mgr Kovithavanij is in favour of the prime minister’s proposal for new election on 14 November. The prelate urges the parties to “focus on the common good” for the country, he calls on Catholics to make a concrete commitment to peace. Red shirts say the roadmap might be acceptable but people are waiting for an official response.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s five-point roadmap for national reconciliation and new elections “is a step in the right direction”, Mgr Francis Xavier Kirengsak Kovithavanij, archbishop of Bangkok, told AsiaNews. For the prelate, who is also vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, both camps “must focus on the common good as the main goal”.

In a televised address last night, the prime minister laid down guidelines to dissolve parliament and organise new general elections on 14 November. The current legislature should end 45 to 60 days before the vote, between the end of August and the start of September.

The roadmap towards national reconciliation should include five objectives. They are: the monarchy must not be used as a tool in political conflicts, the country must be reformed by tackling economic disparities and inequality, media must refrain from reports which exacerbate social or political conflicts, an independent fact-finding panel must be appointed to review fatal incidents involving security forces and protesters that left 27 people dead and more than 900 injured, and the reconciliation process must be carried out with the cooperation of all sides.

Leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), an opposition pressure group better known as red shirts that backs ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, are currently evaluating Abhisit’s proposal. Early comments suggest that the roadmap might be acceptable and a good solution in view of new elections.

The opposition camp wants however an amnesty, which would allow demonstrators who broke the law to avoid going to jail. The Bangkok Post notes however that any amnesty could not be offered to those who had committed criminal offences.

Sources close to the government said that before the prime minister spoke to the nation, the authorities held talks with the opposition about the timing of the dissolution of parliament and new elections. This represents a step forward compared to two earlier meetings, which had no positive outcomes.  At a meeting organised by Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Catholic, Buddhist and Muslim leaders had urged both sides to hold a third meeting.

The archbishop of Bangkok told AsiaNews that at the interfaith meeting, religious leaders “sought to express unity and agreement,” urging the parties to find a solution to the political crisis. The key to break the impasse, Mgr Kovithavanij added, was organising “a third meeting in which both sides show good will and a desire to solve the conflict.”

For the prelate, Abhisit’s five points are “a very positive step”. For him, the two sides should “look at what is good for the Thai people”, for whom peace is a supreme value.

People must become aware of the situation and take responsibility if they want to tackle existing social and political problems.

“We are waiting to see what the demonstrators will do, but the prime minister’s proposal was the only way for the government to address the crisis, using the weapon of dialogue,” he said.

Every evening at 6 pm, Thai Catholics observe a moment of silence and pray together “for peace and what is good for Thailand.”

Prayers are repeated every Sunday “during Mass.” Christians must play an active role in the life of the country, even if they are a minority. “Now we can be cautiously optimistic,” the archbishop of Bangkok said.