Thailand to remain under martial law "for now"

Responding to international criticism, the leader of the September coup said martial law was necessary until the new provisional government assumed full powers. Meanwhile the junta has said it is ready for talks with rebels in the south.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Martial law will remain in place for now in Thailand "until the interim government takes full charge", General Sonthi Boonyaratglin said yesterday. The statement of the army chief who led the coup that ousted the controversial premier Thaksin Shinawatra, came in response to calls from human rights organisations and foreign governments, including the US, for the resumption of civil liberties, put on hold since the coup d'etat.

Yesterday the United States called on the Thai junta to abolish martial law within seven, maximum ten days, and to proceed with democratic elections, which the generals have however fixed for October 2007. Meanwhile international activists are calling for the lifting of a ban on political gatherings and on media monitoring. Within the country, apart from contained student protests and criticism from famous scholars, the September coup has been well met by the population.

The junta, which is de facto still running the country, is focusing on the problem of violence in the Muslim majority southern provinces. Sondhi, a Muslim, has accepted to hold talks with the leader of the rebel groups. "I have accepted to take part in talks," said Sondhi. "But I want to specify that these are talks not negotiations." The general said the proposal came from rebel representatives. Thaksin's government dealt with the separatist struggle in the south in a heavy-handed way and always refused to meet the rebel leader.