BANGKOK— United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is calling for an end to political violence in Thailand and respect for human rights and the rule of law. At least 20 people have been killed and hundreds injured since the widespread protests began last year. The Thai Army chief has also urged talks after weekend attacks on anti-government protest sites left dozens injured and claimed the lives of at least three small children.
In his statement, Ban condemned the escalation of violence in Thailand and especially the loss of children's lives and for bloodshed to immediately end with those responsible brought to justice.
Ban's comments followed weekend attacks on anti-government protest sites. On Sunday in central Bangkok a grenade was tossed into a crowd of shoppers at a protest site killing a four-year-old boy and severely wounding his six-year-old sister who later died. Two other children remained in hospitals in intensive care.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, says the escalation of violence has "crossed a threshold" and there is now the mobilizing of pro-government 'red shirt' supporters.
"We will see the situation becoming worse and much worse before it can improve. The violence has spread to other provinces - the ‘red shirts’ have mobilized. So I think the specter of a wider range of violence against the different sides and so on is going to increase," said Thitinan.
The ‘red shirt’ movement is aligned with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government and supported Yingluck's older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin remains in exile to avoid a two year jail term for corruption.
On Sunday provincial leaders of the ‘red shirts,’ or United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, the UDD, announced plans to launch protests against any actions, including judicial verdicts, that may lead to Yingluck being forced to resign.
UDD leader, Thida Thavornseth, says the ‘red shirts’ are increasingly angered by the moves against the government and support given by unnamed military men last week against Thai police seeking to close down an anti-government protest site.
"The situation makes ‘red shirts’ very, very angry. So yesterday is the time we want the core leader from every province and umphur (village) to come and explain their idea about the strategy and tactics to fight. But, anyway, we are still in the policy that we're a peaceful movement," said Thida.
Thailand's latest crisis has deepened political fault lines. Thaksin remains popular in northern provinces while the anti-government movement draws its support from Bangkok and southern provinces led by a former lawmaker from the opposition Democrat Party.
Chulalongkorn University's Thitinan says escalating violence may result in military intervention in a bid to restore order.
"This is an unfolding tragedy. The mechanics are locked in and they are panning out in ways that no one seems able to prevent. So we are hoping for some kind of compromise behind the scenes somehow. The different sides have to step back from the brink otherwise we will see indiscriminate violence," said Thitinan.
Protests began in November against a government-backed law to grant an amnesty benefiting Thaksin and his return to Thailand. But then the situation escalated into efforts to unseat Yingluck's government. A February 2 national poll also failed to resolve the political crisis, leaving Thailand politically adrift and uncertain.