BANGKOK (Reuters) - Around 15 Thai political leaders allied to the ousted government plan to establish a movement outside Thailand to lead a campaign of civil disobedience to military rule, two members of the group said on Thursday.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power on May 22 and has since led a crackdown that has stifled dissent and silenced the “red shirt” supporters of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, billionaire former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
The military has detained many politicians and activists and demanded as a condition of release that they sign documents stating they would avoid politics and halt anti-coup activities.
If the plan proceeds, the group would represent the first attempt to mount organized opposition to military rule. The two activists said they had yet to formulate exactly what measures the group would use, but said they would be peaceful and would aim to fill the leadership vacuum among anti-coup elements.
“We believe democracy in Thailand has been systematically destroyed,” said former government minister and red-shirt founding member Jakrapob Penkair in a telephone interview from Phnom Penh, the capital of neighboring Cambodia.
“People have been chastened, hunted and bullied with no sense of fairness, justice or decency. We aim to create an organization for all groups protesting the coup inside and outside Thailand. This would be a non-radical group using civil disobedience.”
Thaksin, who lives in exile, is not involved in the movement, said both Jakrapob and a second member of the group, fugitive former member of parliament Sunai Julapongsathorn.
It is unclear how much momentum the movement would gain among those opposed to the junta without the backing of Thaksin, who revolutionized Thai politics and commands the loyalty of millions in the populous north.
The coup was the latest twist in nearly a decade of confrontation between Thaksin and the Bangkok-based royalist establishment, which sees him as a threat to their interests.
Thaksin has given no guidance to his supporters since the military seized power. The former prime minister has effectively funded and controlled the red shirt movement from self-imposed exile since fleeing a 2008 conviction for abuse of power. He was ousted by the military in a previous coup in 2006.
“We will advance with or without him,” said Jakrapob, a former spokesman for Thaksin. “He’s not involved and had no influence in setting this up.”
Jakrapob was forced to resign as a minister in May 2008 after being accused of violating Thailand’s strict lese-majeste laws and has lived in Cambodia for some time.
The military has summoned Jakrapob along with other prominent red shirt leaders to report on June 9.
Asked if the military had heard of the plans to set up such a movement overseas, Winthai Suvaree, deputy spokesman for the military’s National Council for Peace and Order, said: “Thai law can’t touch those who flee abroad but if we know where they are we will ask for international cooperation to bring them back to Thailand.”
“We are monitoring groups resisting the coup. Those who were summoned and do not show up will face the law and their case will be treated as criminal. If they return to Thailand and have cases pending then these may be brought to military court,” he told a news conference.
Kuy Kuong, a spokesman at Cambodia’s foreign ministry, said no request for such cooperation had yet been received from Thailand.
But Kirth Chantharith, a deputy national police chief, told Reuters that Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen would not allow resistance groups to base themselves in the country. “We won’t allow anyone to use our soil to plot against any country. Our position is clear,” Kirth Chantharith said. Sunai, the Thai activist, said some members of the group would remain inside Thailand.
“We will fight with information but the strategy is not yet clear,” he told Reuters in a conversation over Skype. Sunai said he was in Thailand, but declined to say where. He is on the run after ignoring a military summons in the days after the coup.
“In three months, the military will have relaxed its grip. That is when we will move. This won’t be quick. It will take a long time.”
Both Jakrapob and Sunai said the movement would be based in a neutral country outside Thailand. Both declined to say where.
The group would not base themselves in Cambodia to avoid putting in a difficult position, Jakrapob said.
The group may call itself the “Free Thai Movement”, adopting the name of the underground resistance in Thailand to Japanese occupation during World War Two, Jakrapob said. Sunai said no name had been chosen yet.
The group had considered and then ruled out the possibility of forming a government in exile, Jakrapob said.
The junta has banned meetings of more than five people and at the weekend flooded Bangkok with thousands of troops and policemen. Opposition to the coup has been limited to small flash mob protests, and they have for the most part been peaceful.
Some protesters have expressed defiance through the use of a three-fingered salute inspired by the hit film “The Hunger Games”, where the gesture symbolized rebellion against a totalitarian regime.
Others Bangkok protesters have sat in groups of less than five reading books about civil disobedience or that criticize authoritarian government, such as George Orwell’s “1984”.
Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak in BANGKOK and Prak Chan Thul in PHNOM PENH; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan