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Thailand's Interim Government Approves Partial Lifting of Martial Law

  • Ron Corben

Thailand's interim government has lifted martial law across half the country, including in the capital Bangkok, two months after a military coup ousted the former government. But the Cabinet has agreed to maintain tight control in areas viewed as unstable or strongholds of the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Ron Corben reports from Bangkok.

The Thai Cabinet on Tuesday announced the lifting of martial law in 41 of the country's 76 provinces, a major step in easing controls after the September 19 coup.

But the government decided to maintain martial law in Thailand's southern provinces, which are in the grip of a violent insurgency, and the central and northern provinces seen as bases of support for ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Cabinet's decision followed a recommendation by the coup leaders to lift controls in at least 40 provinces. The decision on Bangkok was left to the military-installed prime minister, Surayud Chalunont.

The move needs the assent of Thai King Bhumipol Adulyadej, but this is expected within days.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the Democrat Party, the main opposition when Mr. Thaksin was in power, welcomes the cabinet's decision but says the military controls over the other regions should also be lifted.

"We think it shows the commitment that the regime is trying to return the country to normal. They could certainly do much more. We think that it's possible for them to lift martial law and keep order and control of the situation," said Abhisit Vejjajiva.

But some in Thailand are more critical of the decision to only partially lift martial law.

"It's too little and it's way too late," says Giles Ungpakorn, a political analyst at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. "There is no reason why martial law shouldn't be lifted immediately in all provinces. So there is still serious restrictions in democratic rights."

Coup leader General Sondhi Boonyaratglin has said he wants to maintain martial law in the south because of the insurgency that has led to the deaths of over 1,800 people since early 2004.

General Sondhi traveled to Kuala Lumpur Tuesday to meet the head of Malaysia's defense forces and the army chief for talks on the violence in the largely Muslim southern Thai provinces, which lie along the border between the two countries.

Since the September coup, Thailand's military-installed government has been seeking reconciliation with the southern rebels. Malaysia has offered to host talks between the Thai government and the separatists.

Thailand's interim government is under increasing pressure to fulfill promises to speed up political reforms and hold new elections, as well as to provide evidence of corruption and abuse of power against the Thaksin government - the issues the coup leaders used to justify taking power.

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