Thai activists drop protests, vow to resume if deal with junta fails

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai anti-government movement vowed on Sunday to resume its protests unless the ruling junta keeps the promises it made in return for the group agreeing to end more than a week of demonstrations ahead of a coup anniversary later this month.

File Photo: People protest against Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in Bangkok, Thailand May 5, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The People’s Movement for a Just Society, or P-Move, a network that represents farmers, the urban poor and people who have been forced from their land, staged demonstrations against Thailand’s unelected government at various locations in Bangkok including the United Nations’ regional headquarters this month.

P-Move activists, who have traveled in their hundreds from other provinces to gather in Bangkok, agreed to disperse this weekend after coming to an initial agreement with the military government, who promised it would fix land rights issues in different provinces.

Prayong Doklamyai, a prominent land rights activist and P-Move’s coordinator, said the military government compromised because it wanted the group to leave Bangkok before May 22, the fourth anniversary of the coup in which the junta took power.

Pro-democracy activists have planned a large gathering over May 19 to May 22 to mark the anniversary.

“It was a victory that we were forced to declare. We couldn’t stay to protest longer because the military would cut our access to water and electricity to pressure us to leave, so they didn’t have to worry about different groups coming out on the coup anniversary,” Prayong told Reuters on Sunday.

“We’ll give them time for now, but we will certainly be back if things don’t improve.”

Prayong said the group would discuss its next steps on Wednesday.

Thailand was rocked by often deadly, on-off street protests between 2008 and 2014. The ruling junta has banned public gatherings since the 2014 coup, saying its actions were necessary to keep the peace ahead of a promised general election.

In recent months several protests have underscored growing public frustration with the military government’s repeated postponements of the election, now set for early 2019.

Spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd told Reuters the government welcomed P-Move’s agreement to stop its protests. “It is a good sign that P-Move has ended its gathering. The government wants to solve problems for every group among all Thai people,” he said.

He added that the government is “not worried” about planned pro-democracy demonstrations later this month.

“The election won’t be later than February next year...we will make them understand that.”

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Editing by Eric Meijer