WRAPUP 3-Thai standoff may worsen to civil war: crisis group

* Time for Thailand to seek international assistance – ICG

* Call for military ops to end in exchange for small
protest

* Red shirts move barricades to allow access to hospital
(Adds movement of barricade near hospital)

By Bill Tarrant

BANGKOK, May 1 (BestGrowthStock) – A prolonged and increasingly
violent stand-off between government and red shirt protesters
in Bangkok is worsening and could deteriorate into “an
undeclared civil war”, the International Crisis Group said.

“The Thai political system has broken down and seems
incapable of pulling the country back from the brink of
widespread conflict,” the Brussels-based conflict resolution
group said in a report released late on Friday.

“The stand-off in the streets of Bangkok between the
government and red shirt protesters is worsening and could
deteriorate in undeclared civil war.”

Thailand should consider help from neutral figures from the
international community, drawn perhaps from Nobel peace
laureates, to avoid a slide into wider violence, it said.
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Clashes between the military and the red shirts, made up of
mostly rural and urban poor, have killed 27 people and injured
nearly 1,000 in a seven-week-old drive to force early
elections.

Dozens of mysterious explosions have hit the capital,
including grenade attacks on April 22 in the Silom business
district that killed one and wounded more than 80.

Bangkok anxiously awaits an army operation to evict the red
shirts from their tent city, fortified at six entry points with
ramshackle barriers of tyres doused in gasoline, razor wire and
sharpened bamboo poles, which could lead to a bloodbath.

The fault lines are widening between the establishment —
big business, aristocrats the military brass and an educated
middle class — and the protesters, many of whom support former
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 coup.

Civil society groups brought the government and the
protesters together but the talks faltered over when to hold
elections. The red shirts offered a 90-day timeframe, but the
prime minister rejected that last weekend.

The crisis comes as Thailand faces its first prospect of
royal succession in more than six decades.

The government has stepped up accusations that the red
shirt movement has republican leanings — a provocative claim
in a country where many consider the king almost divine — and
that key figures are part of a network to overthrow the
monarchy.

The report recommended the creation of a high-level group
of international figures, noting that Nobel Laureate and East
Timor President Jose Ramos Horta was in Bangkok this week at
his own initiative and could be joined by other figures.

The two sides should be brought together to end the
military operation and limit the protests “to a small, more
symbolic number of people who do not disrupt life in Bangkok”,
ICG said.

It could also begin negotiations on an interim government
of national unity and preparations for elections, it said.

The government is unlikely to welcome such mediation. The
foreign minister this week upbraided Western diplomats for
talking with red shirt leaders at the encampment, which lies
near embassies in the area that could be affected by violence.

BARRICADE MOVED

The crisis has cast a pall over the economy, decimating the
tourist industry, closing businesses and depressing consumer
sentiment. Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said Thailand’s
economic growth rate could be cut by 2 percentage points if it
continues all year. [ID:nBKT003258]

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban ordered police to
dismantle barricades near the entrance to Chulalongkorn
Hospital, which protesters raided on Thursday night, thinking
troops were hiding there.

Protesters agreed to comply with the order and several
unarmed police officers arrived as red shirts re-assembled
their barricade to create an access road to the hospital.
However, the front-line remained just 50 metres from hundreds
of armed troops.

Thursday’s incident at the hospital caused outrage and
leaders apologised for the 200 protesters who entered the
hospital, alarming staff and forcing many patients to be
relocated.

It also illustrated growing signs of a lack of coordination
in the normally disciplined movement. Leaders ordered the
barricade be moved back on Friday, only to have a rogue
major-general who has overseen their security restore it.

That followed Monday’s four-hour blocking of an overhead
rail system, which leaders said they had not ordered and
immediately told their security staff to remove tyres placed on
the tracks.

Another setback followed on Wednesday, when security forces
used rubber bullets and live ammunition to stop an attempt to
hold “mobile rallies” outside their 3 sq-km (1.2 sq-mile) camp
in a luxury shopping and hotel district.

The hospital incursion raised concerns about how much
control leaders now have over their followers, particularly
over Major-General Khattiya Sawasdipol and the shadowy “black
clad” paramilitaries that have appeared among the red shirts as
their defenders.

Royalist “yellow shirts”, who besieged Bangkok’s airports
for a week in 2008 in a campaign to topple a pro-Thaksin
government, have re-emerged to demand military action to
disperse the red shirts, warning they could again take matters
in their own hands.
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(Additional reporting by Orathai Sriring; Editing by Jeremy
Laurence)

WRAPUP 3-Thai standoff may worsen to civil war: crisis group