THE chance of peace talks between the government and the red shirts hung in the balance yesterday, with both sides remaining firm about their conditions for negotiations.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), meanwhile, remained determined to broker talks even after fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra on Thursday had dismissed the independent organisation as lacking neutrality.
"I am willing to talk, but it should not be in this climate of intimidation," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in an interview.
The PM said he did not think the House dissolution requested by the protesting red shirts would ensure an end to the political conflict.
"The talks should focus on the national interest. I have never ruled out negotiations," he said.
Abhisit also said that while the red-shirt leaders said they were ready to talk to him, Thaksin had rejected the NHRC's offer to act as "the link" between the two sides.
"I am waiting to see if the leaders or Thaksin have the final say in this matter," he said.
In his interview with TV Channel 9 last night, the prime minister said there were several demands from the Thaksin camp.
For example, Thaksin's legal adviser Noppadon Pattama said he wanted an amnesty for the former premier.
"I have no duty to negotiate about personal interests. If the talk is about exchanging benefits, I won't get involved," Abhisit said.
Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan yesterday said the protesters were willing to hold talks with the government under the condition that the House must be dissolved.
He said all sides must also agree that they would accept the results of the next election without holding further protests.
"The red shirts are not refusing to negotiate, but the prime minister has to dissolve the House first and all parties have to sign a pact saying they will respect the result of elections so the country can move ahead," Jatuporn said.
A red-shirt source said Thaksin wanted the anti-government rally to continue in order to increase pressure on the government.
"The red shirts are now getting the upper hand, as our peaceful rally is proving effective.
But if the rally continues as suggested by Thaksin, without allowing talks with the government, which is being called for by society, the red shirts may end up defeated. The masses may turn back to supporting the government," the source said.
NHRC president Amara Pongsapit said the agency was acting as a link between the feuding sides in order to ensure a peaceful solution to the conflict.
"We want to make sure there will be no violence during the rally," she said.
Taejing Siripanit, an NHRC member, said the commission could not stay idle when there was the chance the political confrontation could escalate into armed struggle.
"If that turns out to be the case, the losers are the country," he said.
Another NHRC member, Chuchai Supawong, called on Thaksin to allow the negotiation process to begin.
"I urge Thaksin to stop the distortion and trying to end the talks process. That's tantamount to removing the bridge to peace," he said.