Thai ‘Red Shirts’ to Launch Foreign Resistance
By | June 2, 2014

Leaders of the Thai pro-democracy “red shirt” movement will this month create an organization on foreign soil to oppose the latest military junta in Bangkok, but will steer clear of Cambodia, according to Jakrapob Penkair, an exiled founding member of the group.

Mr. Jakrapob served as spokesman for former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra before his ouster in the military coup d’etat of 2006 and has been based in Cambodia in exile since the military’s violent repression of red shirt protests across Bangkok and Pattaya City in April 2009.

He said at a cafe in Phnom Penh on Thursday that the creation of an exile organization aimed at resisting the junta will soon be announced, following the Thai military’s overthrow of the elected government that had been led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Mr. Thaksin’s sister.

“Our main goal of the setup is to prove the new military regime in Thailand [is] illegal, anti-democracy, and extremely destructive to Thailand and to the international community. The activities will range from political-diplomatic to local-group coordinating,” Mr. Jakrapob said in a later email.

He added that the organization would be based in a Western country for diplomatic reasons and could lead to a government-in-exile.

“A government-in-exile, for us, is a natural process,” Mr. Jakrapob explained in his email. “When our organization is well-received internationally, the presence of such government is almost automatic.”

Last month’s coup was the culmination of six months of protests aimed at replacing Ms. Yingluck’s government with an unelected council, as well as years of growing tensions linked to the royal succession that will take place when the ailing 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej passes away.

The protests were led by the former secretary-general of the Democrat Party, which has not won a national election since 1992 but last governed between 2008 and 2011 after a highly politicized court decision.

Mr. Jakrapob said on Thursday that hundreds of red shirts had fled to Cambodia during the associated violence of the late 2000s, but that most returned after Ms. Yingluck was voted into power in 2011.

The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, the organizational arm of the red shirts, is this time discouraging supporters from coming to Cambodia to prevent diplomatic problems, Mr. Jakrapob said.

The red shirt leader himself lives in exile due to accusations of lese majeste, an offense that carries a prison term of between three and 15 years.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen, a long-time ally and friend of Mr. Thaksin, said in a speech that he would not allow the former Thai prime minister or his followers to set up a government-in-exile in Cambodia.

Mr. Hun Sen advised Mr. Thaksin to wait “a year and a half or two years,” when the military junta says it will allow for new elections.

Mr. Jakrapob said that talks are now taking place with officials from a number of Western countries about setting up their resistance to the junta.

“We are in contact with several authorities and can’t reveal now, out of respect to them,” Mr. Jakrapob said in his email. “[T]he general reception is very encouraging. It is quite apparent that almost all democratic countries / authorities are uniformly dismayed with the military takeover.”

Mr. Jakrapob also said he expected to be named secretary-general of the yet unnamed body and that Mr. Thaksin will not play a direct role.

“No,” Mr. Jakrapob said on whether the former prime minister will hold a formal position in the foreign resistance to the military junta.

“Former PM Thaksin is regarded as an ally for democracy pursuit in Thailand.”

willemyns@cambodiadaily.com

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