Thailand's defense minister said yesterday that martial law should remain in place at least another month, giving the first indication of how long the country's post-coup government plans to retain emergency powers.
"I think the martial law is needed for at least another month and can be lifted after a one-month period," Defense Minister Bunrod Somtad said, adding that the "situation is still not stabilized." He did not elaborate.
His comment was the latest in a series of official remarks suggesting that martial law imposed after the Sept. 19 coup that overthrew former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was unlikely to be immediately lifted, as the international community has urged.
Western nations and human rights groups denounced the coup as a setback to democracy and have urged the current government to quickly lift restrictions imposed by the military, including curbs on press freedoms and limits on public gatherings and political assembly. Martial law was imposed immediately after the coup.
The country's army chief, General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, who led the coup, said earlier yesterday that he felt martial law was not harming anyone and that lifting the restrictions would make it difficult to resolve problems.
"We have to realize that once martial law is lifted, if anything happens it would be hard to resolve," Sondhi said in a broadcast on the army's radio station. "At this moment, martial law is not affecting the daily life of people."
Sondhi said that the government and the coup leaders, who now call themselves the Council for National Security, will discuss when to lift martial law.
"But we have to assess the situation and see whether elements of unrest still exist," Sondhi said, adding that he has ordered various agencies to "collect information" to help authorities make their decision.
"Anyway, martial law will not be in place for too long," he said.
After coup leaders seized power they responded to international criticism by saying the decision of lifting martial law would be left to the new government, which was sworn in on Monday.
Interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said on Tuesday that his government valued civil liberties and he wanted to see a quick return to normalcy, suggesting that martial law would be abolished soon.
"We will lift martial law as soon as we can and when the situation is suitable," Surayud said, adding that his government still needed to consult coup leaders on the matter. "I stress it will not be long."
"We value the freedom of people and civil liberties," Surayud added.
In another sign of the military's continued presence, Sondhi said that his Council for National Security had selected the 250 members to serve as Thailand's interim National Legislative Assembly, or lower house of Parliament, which under normal times is an elected body.
Sondhi said that the 250 people represented a broad cross-section of society, with academics, businessmen, former civil servants, lawyers and farmers. He said the lineup would be made public in the coming days.
According to the road map set out by the coup leaders, Surayud's government will rule for about a year, until a new constitution is written and elections can be held next October.
The military ousted Thaksin while he was attending the UN General Assembly in New York. Last week, in a letter sent from London, he resigned as leader of the ruling Thai Rak Thai Party, which he led to three election wins.