Experts hose down hopes for amnesty

'Secret' talks dismissed as trivial

Political observers have dismissed Thursday's closed-door talks between red and yellow shirt leaders as trivial, saying the meeting made little headway towards achieving bipartisan support for political amnesty.

The two sides still have key differences of opinion on the issue that could make an amnesty deal impossible, they say.

Pheu Thai Party list-MP and red shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) core leader Korkaew Pikulthong met Parnthep Pourpongpan, spokesman for the yellow shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), at parliament on Thursday.

The "secret" meeting, made public on Friday, was arranged by deputy House speaker Charoen Chankomol to discuss an amnesty deal for convictions stemming from political protests since the Sept 19, 2006 coup.

The pair reached an initial agreement to issue an amnesty bill for rank and file protesters who violated the emergency decree. A separate bill would set up a committee to decide if anyone else, namely protest leaders, should be granted amnesty.

Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, chairman of a Political Development Council planning committee, said that while the talks were positive, both camps were still divided on the details of the amnesty bills.

Both sides still want someone to be held accountable for recent political violence, he said.

Mr Somchai also noted that both Mr Korkaew and Mr Parnthep were not the ultimate leaders of each camp, so their stance can not be taken to represent all of their supporters.

"The red shirts consist of several factions with different views. I don't think Mr Korkaew could convince other key red shirt leaders such as Weng Tojirakarn, Jatuporn Prompan, and the right and left wing red shirt supporters, to agree with him [on the amnesty bill]," Mr Somchai said.

Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, president of the National Institute of Development Administration, said the talks did succeed in building trust between the two sides.

He said a lack of trust has been a major obstacle to achieving peace between the two camps, but hinted that the meeting may have been more about appeasing their support base than a genuine attempt at reconciliation. He said political groups opposing an amnesty stand to lose support.

Mr Sombat said participants in political gatherings should be spared punishment while protest leaders found guilty of crimes must be brought to justice. "If an amnesty had been considered along these lines, the issue would have been laid to rest a long time ago," he said.

Democrat MP for Phatthalung, Nipit Intarasombat, said Saturday his party supported the idea of granting amnesties to people arrested during political rallies.

The party already has a draft amnesty bill ready to submit to parliament.

The bill aims to exonerate protesters from the red and yellow camps who violated the emergency decree, but it would not cover those who committed criminal offences against people or destroyed public and private property.

Protest leaders who instigated unrest must be punished, Mr Nipit said.

Green Politics group coordinator Suriyasai Katasila, a leading member of the yellow shirts during its street demonstrations, wrote on his Facebook page Saturday that instead of an amnesty, the proper first step towards reconciliation would be for all involved to enter the judicial process and admit fault.

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Writer: Mongkol Bangprapa
Position: Reporter