`Secret cells' discovered in Thailand's pro-Thaksin north

OLD GUARD: Pockets of resistance to the junta that took power after the Sept. 19 coup were discovered in the provinces where the deposed leader has a strong following


Mon, Nov 06, 2006 - Page 5

Thailand's junta had detected "secret cells" aiming to destabilize the post-coup political situation in the north, where deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had wide support, a report said yesterday.

Third Region Army Commander, Lieutenant-General Jiradej Kotcharat, said the military found "undercurrent" cells in 17 northern provinces and was closely monitoring their activities, the daily Nation newspaper reported.

"Without wind, waves do not happen," he was quoted as saying, adding the cells were aiming to destabilize the Council for National Security, as the junta now calls itself, following the Sept. 19 coup that ousted Thaksin.

Residents of the poor north and northeast are believed to still support Thaksin, whose populist policies succeeded in boosting their incomes.

"The emergence of opposition groups is understandable as some people lost out from the coup, but I must remind you this situation is not good for the nation, which needs to be united," Jiradej said.

Following the putsch, the military imposed martial law, scrapped planned elections, banned public rallies and threatened action against the media.

The reported discovery of the secret cells came amid conflicting reports over Thaksin's return to Thailand, following the bloodless coup.

The Nation, quoting a source from Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party, said Thaksin had decided to return to Thailand in early December. Thaksin resigned as leader of the party last month.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, who was installed by the military following the coup, has said he was willing to hold talks with Thaksin about his return, if he approached Surayud to make formal arrangements.

But Surayud also said that Thaksin should wait until "security issues" were resolved before looking to return to Thailand.

Thaksin was in New York when the coup happened, and had since been living in self-imposed exile in London, where he has a home.

Last week, his legal adviser said Thaksin was in Beijing to visit friends, but insisted the deposed leader would not return to Thailand in the near future, as the country still remained under martial law following the coup.

Thailand's defense minister said last week that the Surayud government would not lift martial law anytime soon as the country was still unstable after the coup.