Warning to impose "martial law" welcomed by both sides of divide

Pro- and anti-government groups both praised the Army yesterday for its latest warning against violence in the political conflict.

Former deputy prime minister and foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, now an adviser to the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO), expressed support yesterday for a declaration of martial law by the Army.

"If martial law is declared, the military will run the operation to maintain security and the CAPO will not get involved. And I believe that if the martial law is declared nationwide, an election can be held smoothly," he said.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha issued a strong statement on Thursday after an attack on a protest site that caused three deaths earlier the same morning, saying it may need to resort to "full military force" if the bloodshed continues.

A spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) clarified yesterday that the Army chief was talking about enforce martial law when he said the Army may deploy troops in full force to curb violence.

ISOC spokesman Col Banphot Poonpian said Prayuth was saying that if the situation deteriorated, the Army may have to enforce martial law, which is the highest level of security law.

"It's a measure that the Army chief announced on Thursday. It's a warning in line with the legal steps."

Banphot said the military would enforce martial law if a lot of war weapons were used to inflict deaths and injuries in several areas.

ISA 'can still work'

However, ISOC had assessed the situation and believed that the current situation could still be dealt with via enforcement of the Internal Security Act, the spokesman said.

Surapong, who spoke to reporters at the CAPO headquarters, said: "Martial law is the highest level of measures to ensure security. I believe the armed forces have prepared measures to enforce it."

He said he would like to thank the Army chief for warning political opponents to behave - and Prayuth to take action against leaders of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), adding that troops were also officers who could make arrests.

Opponents of the government wanted to encourage military leaders to stage a coup, Surapong said, but the top brass had made it clear they would not seize power.

"But they may control the situation to prevent violence by declaring martial law, which is not a coup," he said.

The former minister said he would continue to work as an adviser to CAPO until an order for him to be removed from the post was announced in the Royal Gazette.

PDRC spokesman Akanat Promphan said he was satisfied with Prayuth's statement as the army chief showed a clear stance after the latest attack that led to deaths and injuries.

"The CAPO and police failed to arrest perpetrators [of the attack].

"So, we fully support the army to show their responsibility as a security agency," he said.

Asked about speculation by red shirts that General Prayuth could be appointed as a neutral PM, Akanat said it was unlikely. He said any decision to appoint a PM was now up to the Senate and he had no idea who might be.

Meanwhile, caretaker Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan told kamnans and village headmen in Nong Khai yesterday to be prepared to mobilise villagers to head to Bangkok to reclaim democracy.

In a meeting with local officials in Nong Khai, Charupong said he was concerned that the army's statement could lead to an undemocratic incident within one or two days.

"I ask all of you to gather 10 villagers from each village at the provincial hall and be ready to go to Bangkok if an 'incident' really happens. Please cooperate with your governor for facilitating the trip," he said.

What the law entails

Military commanders in troubled areas have the authority to enforce martial law, if it looks like war or riots may break out.

Martial law gives military officers the power to:

- Take action against war or riots;

- Use arms to suppress unrest;

- Search, confiscate or occupy any premises or vehicles;

- Censor information;

- Block, search and control postal services;

- Activate the military court to judge on crimes within the area under martial law;

- Mobilise civilians to help the military;

- Procure resources such as vehicles or logistical materials to support military operations;

- Prohibit public gatherings, publications, broadcasting, transport, communication, travel, the movement of people or any action that the Defence Ministry deems necessary;

- Enforce curfews;

- Destroy, remove or adjust any premise or location for the purpose of military operations;

- Arrest and detain suspects for a maximum of seven days.

-People are not entitled to any compensation for damage incurred during such military operations;

- Martial law can only be ended with a Royal Decree.