Pro-govt Thai red-shirts face sedition charge

THAILAND - Pro-government red-shirts in Chiang Mai and Phayao advocating partition from the rest of the country will be charged with sedition under legal action launched by Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Third Army Region commander Lt Gen Preecha Chan-ocha, whose has authority over areas in the North, said yesterday that secessionist and related activities - including preparation for such action - were illegal under Articles 113 and 114 of the Criminal Code.

Preecha said the charges would primarily relate to the activities of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leaders in Chiang Mai and Phayao.

The first red-shirt groups to face sedition charges would be Rak Chiang Mai 51 and Red Shirt Phayao.

Similar action would be taken against red-shirt groups in Phitsanulok who erected banners at several locations calling for the partitioning of Thailand and promoting a People's Democratic Republic of Lanna.

Article 113 (3) of the Criminal Code stipulates that partitioning the country, through use of force or announcing plans to do this, is regarded of an act of secession. The crime carries a life term or death sentence.

Article 114 states that the preparation and collection of arms for partition and conspiracy to partition the country can result in a prison term of three to five years. Encouraging people to be involved in secessionist activities, or concealing acts that lead to sedition, is punishable with a three to five-year prison term.

Deputy Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said earlier an order to charge the red-shirts was given directly by Prayuth to Preecha, his younger brother.

The news follows activities by red shirts in protest against the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee and their promotion of a People's Democratic Republic of Lanna.

The term has been promoted in red-shirt media and widely seen via banners erected in public.

"Security authorities have deemed such a statement illegal, uncreative and unsuitable to the current political circumstances," Winthai said.

Red shirts in Chiang Mai, a stronghold of pro-government groups and the home province of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, recently organised a parade in which red and white flags- the colours of the so-called Lanna Republic - were displayed.

Winthai called on people engaged in the promotion of the term to be careful about the legal consequences of their actions, as certain activities associated with calling for the partitioning of the country were serious violations of the law.

"Freedom of expression is a right under the Constitution, but wanting to partition the country is not viable and certainly impossible to be accepted," Winthai said.

Meanwhile, PDRC protesters yesterday left the Pathumwan intersection rally site to protest at Lumpini Park.

PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban, together with co-leader and Student and People Network for Thailand's Reform coordinator Uthai Yodmanee, led PDRC supporters in relocating to the park in the city centre. The group marched along Phaya Thai Road to Rama IV Road, where Lumpini Park is located.

Suthep said that coming PDRC campaigns would focus on interrupting businesses owned by or linked to the Shinawatra family.

He reiterated that moving to Lumpini Park was not a retreat, but a re-jig of PDRC strategies.

The park's auditorium would serve as the centre for the protest, with feedback from supporters in and outside Bangkok welcomed.

"The Lumpini rally site operates around the clock and will not stop until victory is achieved," he said to a crowd of supporters.

Bangkok Metropolitan Administration staff have begun cleaning up vacated protest sites.

Protesters camped at Asoke, Silom and Ratchaprasong have also shifted to Lumpini Park.

The move came after Suthep on Friday night announced an end to the "Bangkok Shutdown", which started on January 13 in an attempt to oust the caretaker government to pave the way for political reform.

The old rally stages would be dismantled so that city traffic could return to normal today. However, he said the PDRC would continue their fight against the "Thaksin regime".

One anti-government leader staying put is Buddhist monk Phra Buddha Issara, who is refusing to dismantle the People's Army to Overthrow the Thaksin Regime stage at Phan Fah Lilat Bridge.

Pro-government red shirts gathered in large numbers in Udon Thani yesterday in an event dubbed "Beating War Drum". The gathering is a lead to a planned major protest over the PDRC.

The reds gathering initially on Saturday night, with many UDD leaders speaking on stage to rouse support from rural people who travelled from several northeastern provinces. Many then travelled in a convoy of about 400 cars and 30 buses to Kalasin, Maha Sarakham, and set up a second stage in Khon Kaen.

Launching the convoy from Udon Thani to Kalasin, UDD chairperson Thida Thavornseth said now was the time for democracy lovers to launch an offensive to secure a foothold and reclaim power for the people.

Udon Thani was chosen for the launch because the UDD wanted to give morale support to local leader Kwanchai Praipana, who was shot and wounded.

Another UDD leader, the deputy Commerce Minister Nattawut Saikua, said the onvoy would later travel to the North.

En route to Khon Kaen, the convey was greeted by local residents and later joined by another 100 cars.

UDD leader Yoswarit Chuklom said there would also be Beating War Drum rallies in Lamphun, Lampang and Chiang Mai.