Thailand's top generals lured the former government and its supporters into a trap by arranging peace talks between political heavyweights then seizing power in a coup moments later, a deposed minister said on Sunday.
Speaking to Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location, ousted Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang said he was suspicious of army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha's motives for declaring martial law on Tuesday, then calling all key players in the crisis to the negotiating table two days later.
"I felt something wasn't right. I tried to warn cabinet members, but I couldn't get the message across in time," Chaturon said.
"It was a trap. They'd planned it earlier, then they staged the coup and ordered the other Puea Thai Party members to report to them. I knew something was wrong," he said, referring to the ruling party of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Chaturon was describing Thursday's meeting at the Army Club, a military social venue that's now the de facto seat of government. Sources at those talks described how gun-toting troops rushed in to secure politicians, activists and even journalists as Prayuth abruptly left, then appeared on television to say negotiations had collapsed, so the army had seized power.
"This must have been prepared for some time," Chaturon said, adding he suspected the opposition Democrat Party, an anti-government protest group and the royalist establishment had colluded with the army to overthrow the government.
The whereabouts of Yingluck, her cabinet members, other senior party members and their so-called red shirt supporters remain unknown. They formed the bulk of political players summoned to report to the junta, although some of their opponents, who led six months of protests to bring Yingluck down, have also been detained.
Chaturon, a close ally of self-exiled billionaire and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother and the driving force behind the deposed government, said he was unable to make contact with any of his associates and feared most were in military custody.