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Asia

Tentative peace overtures in Bangkok

The stalemate between the Thai government and the opposition UDD, also known as the Red Shirts, seems to be giving way to attempts at finding a compromise solution.

An anti-government protests have been going on for around six weeks in Thailand

Anti-government protests have been going on for around six weeks in Thailand

As thousands of pro-government demonstrators rallied in Bangkok against the Red Shirts, both sides signalled on Friday they might be open to a compromise. So far, the Red Shirts had insisted that parliament be dissolved immediately, whereas the government had offered new polls at the end of the year. Eakpant Pidavanija is a lecturer at Thailand's renowned Mahidol University's Research Center for Peace Building, which has been active in exploring peaceful ways of conflict resolution in the crisis.

Anti-government demonstrators look on from behind a makeshift barricade

Anti-government demonstrators look on from behind a makeshift barricade

Deutsche Welle: Is there still scope for a negotiated settlement in the current standoff?

Eakpant Pidavanija: Yes. The government and the leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have been talking to each other almost every day, I think. But the details have not been discussed yet. So far, they are just trying to find the right opportunity for real negotiations.

So you are saying they are having behind-the-scenes talks, and there is constant communication?

Yes, I think so. At least there is a certain kind of communication how the demonstrations should be held, or how the distance between the security personnel and the demonstrators should be, something like that.

There have also been reports about mediation efforts. What can you tell us about them?

There are several organizations or individuals trying to build a bridge between the government and the UDD. Certain conditions are acceptable, but it's still in the process.

And how would such a negotiated settlement look approximately?

Most of the proposals try to focus on the dissolution of the parliament. But the timeframes are different. And they are also trying to focus on "national reconciliation" among several groups. But there are several obstacles in between. When we discuss things in detail, both parties still could not agree in certain areas.

And what makes it difficult for them to back down?

For example, the Democrat Party has been charged and there is a court case about the dissolution of the party. So that's also a big obstacle for the Democrats to decide when to dissolve parliament. Because if they dissolve parliament, for example, right now, the timing would be very bad for the Democrats...

Soldiers in full combat gear continue to patrol the capital's central business district as anti-government demonstrations continue

Soldiers continue to patrol the capital's central business district as anti-government demonstrations continue

...they wouldn't have time to re-organize, possibly, and form a new organization?

And also, according to the law, candidates must be party members ninety days before the election day.

Do you get the feeling in general that both sides are willing to compromise?

In certain senses, we can see that opportunity. But especially this time, their leaders are not totally free to decide, because right now the crowds and the public have been putting a lot of pressure on both of them...

Is there any pressure now on the government to actually crack down on the demonstrations?

The general public is putting pressure on the government to start doing things like that. But I still believe that the government will not do it unless things get out of control. In this situation, I don't think the government will decide to suppress the demonstrations.

The so-called Red Shirts are demanding Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve Parliament and call new elections immediately

The so-called Red Shirts are demanding Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve Parliament and call new elections immediately

Which political and social forces are interested in promoting a peaceful solution? And do these forces make themselves heard, too?

I think there are lots of attempts to make a peaceful solution more tangible. The need to negotiate or even mid-term and long-term conflict resolution has been presented to both sides and to the public. Several organizations have presented road maps to get out of this kind of conflict and proposed a scenario for conflict resolution. I think, no matter how bad the situation is, this is an opportunity for Thai society to unite and really find a mechanism of conflict resolution for ourselves.

Can you tell us something about the work your research center does? What are you doing in this regard?

There are two major task lines. The first is about the symbolic promotion of peace and non-violent means. The second one is the real work of conflict resolution. We have been trying to propose several road maps, and drafted plans for talks about talks, which is the first step of negotiation in this kind of situation. And that has also led to the government's own road maps and rules of communication between the government and the leaders of the UDD. We also have a non-violence network which is working in cooperation with us on one important task - the volunteers for peace witnesses. We have found lots of volunteers working at all the demonstration sites and trying to collect information.

Interview: Thomas Baerthlein
Editor: Sarah Berning

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