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Thai martial law may be lifted in Dec: Officials

The military junta may lift martial law after investigators complete corruption probes against deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

india Updated: Nov 16, 2006 11:48 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Thailand's military junta may lift martial law in December, after investigators complete corruption probes against deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra, senior security officials said on Thursday.

The military rulers, who ousted Thaksin in a bloodless coup on September 19, had earlier indicated they would lift martial law this month.

But they postponed the decision over fears that anti-coup protests could break out, the sources told the agency on condition of anonymity.

"If martial law is lifted now, political unrest could erupt again," one high-ranking intelligence official said.

"But we are confident that martial law will be lifted next month, after the relevant authorities finish their investigations against Thaksin," he said.

The military has justified its takeover by claiming that widespread corruption during Thaksin's five years in office had undermined democracy.

Three separate teams are investigating graft claims, but the junta has admitted it is struggling to find charges that will stick against Thaksin.

Meanwhile, the nation remains under martial law, which the generals imposed when they took power.

Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas said last week that he believed a decision on lifting martial law would be made before Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont leaves Saturday for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Hanoi.

But Surayud, who was installed by the military, said Tuesday that lifting martial law was "not urgent" and that he was waiting for the junta to make its recommendation.

Security officials said the junta was concerned about Thaksin's recent trips around Asia.

Thaksin was in New York when the coup happened, and after that lived in self-imposed exile in London, where he keeps a home.

But he was seen at the weekend shopping in Hong Kong, and on Wednesday he went to the Indonesian resort island of Bali, where his lawyer said he would spend about a week on holiday.

The military has instructed officials to keep close watch on the billionaire's movements -- and on his assets, another security source said.

"Military diplomats have been assigned to monitor Thaksin's movements as well as the movements of business people related to him," the official said.

"We have heard that there have been some efforts to transfer Thaksin's assets out of Thailand by using a network of a certain group of businessmen," he added.

Thaksin's travels around Asia have raised speculation that he might try to return home.

The generals fear his return could spark an anti-coup uprising among the rural poor, who are believed to still support the ex-premier.

The generals also face mounting criticism after they accepted pay increases that doubled their salaries and took up top positions on the boards of state enterprises, raising doubts about their self-declared commitment to root out corruption.

First Published: Nov 16, 2006 11:48 IST