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Thai Govt Rejects Negotiations with Protesters, UN Mediation Role

  • Daniel Schearf

Muslim Minority Women in the Protest Camp, Bangkok, May 16, 2010

Muslim Minority Women in the Protest Camp, Bangkok, May 16, 2010

The Thai government has rejected an offer for negotiations with protest leaders and says it will continue military pressure to close the protesters' camp in Bangkok. At least 31 people have been killed and more than 230 injured in three days of fighting between soldiers and protesters. The government has delayed a plan to impose a curfew on the camp area.

Thick black smoke billowed over the Bangkok skyline Sunday as clashes continued between soldiers and anti-government protesters.

Senior Lady in the Protest Camp, Bangkok, May 16, 2010

Senior Lady in the Protest Camp, Bangkok, May 16, 2010

Hopes for peace surfaced when protest leaders said they were ready to negotiate with the government.

Their conditions were for authorities to pull back troops circling their camp and to allow the United Nations to mediate the dispute.

But government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the military operation would continue and U.N. mediation is unacceptable.

He says the Thai government does not have a policy of letting any agency intervene in the country's internal affairs. He says the government has sovereignty and the Kingdom of Thailand can solve its own problems.

The spokesman also said the state of emergency is being extended to five more provinces because of fears the fighting could spread across the country. That puts 22 out of 76 provinces under emergency rule, giving the army authority to maintain order and placing limits on the media and public gatherings.

The government demands that protesters leave the camp they established nine weeks ago in a central Bangkok commercial district.

Protest numbers have dropped since fighting broke out Thursday after the government began increasing pressure on the camp.

The demonstrators have been trying to push back soldiers who are blockading the camp.

The estimated 5,000 protesters still in the camp, while nervous, remain defiant and many are angry. Almost all of those killed were protesters.

Saman Somjit says he is not afraid of the soldiers but he feels helpless against them.

"Now if I have a gun or something I will go out to kill with the army. But, I have nothing, you know," Saman said. "Just only sling shot. But sling shot and M16, how we can fight with them?"

Authorities say some protesters have fired guns and grenades at soldiers. Protesters deny the accusation and point out that no soldiers have been killed since Thursday.

The demonstrators say a traditional elite in Bangkok, supported by the military, conspired to remove their elected leaders from power.

An agreement for November elections fell apart when protest leaders demanded the deputy prime minister be charged in connection with an April attempt to break up the protests, in which several protesters died.

Citing security concerns, authorities declared Monday and Tuesday holidays for Bangkok and delayed school openings for at least one week.

But hours after announcing it would institute a curfew on Sunday, the government canceled the plan, saying the situation in the city is "under control."