UN Urges Thailand to ‘Step Back from Brink’

BANGKOK

The United Nations has urged Thailand to “step back from the brink” to avoid further loss of life as troops and protestors remain locked in a tense confrontation after deadly street clashes.

Leaders of the “Red Shirt” protestors offered the government a truce Monday after five days of violence in central Bangkok that have left 38 people dead and more than 270 wounded.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on both sides to negotiate an end to the violence, which has turned parts of the Thai capital into no-go zones.

“Ultimately, this situation can only be resolved by negotiation. I urge leaders to set aside pride and politics for the sake of the people of Thailand,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.

Pillay said the situation could spiral out of control as thousands of protestors defied government warnings to leave their fortified camp in the heart of Bangkok by 3pm on Monday or risk jail.

“As the latest government deadline passes, there is a high risk that the situation could spiral out of control,” she said.

“To prevent further loss of life, I appeal to the protestors to step back from the brink, and the security forces to exercise maximum restraint in line with the instructions given by the government,” she added.

The escalating violence has turned parts of the city of 12 million into no-go zones as troops use live ammunition against protesters, who have blocked streets with burning tyres and fought back, mainly with homemade weapons.

Korbsak Sabhavasu, a top aide to the prime minister, responded positively to a phone call from one of the leaders of the “Red Shirt” protestors offering a truce earlier Monday.

Nattawut Saikuar had telephoned him to offer to call Reds back to the main protest camp from outlying areas, where fierce street battles have occurred, said Korbsak.

“He said that if soldiers stop firing, he will call protesters back to the Ratchaprasong site,” he added.

“If he calls protesters back to Ratchaprasong site and stops the action around Bangkok, there will be no more bullets fired by soldiers. Soldiers have not invaded the protest site,” said Korbsak, the premier’s secretary general.

Normally bustling streets almost emptied as hospitals were put on alert to receive heavy casualties in the event security forces attempted to clear the Reds’ encampment after the deadline passed.

But defiant Red Shirts were seen dancing and a Buddhist monk led prayers on the stage inside the rally site, where the government said an estimated 3,000 people remained despite the threat of forced dispersal.

Those who stayed faced two years in prison, the government said, warning also that their lives were at risk from “terrorist attack” at the rally site.

Authorities had said they would send the Red Cross to help evacuate the area of women, children and the elderly who wanted to leave.

But there was no rush to leave the camp where men, children and women remained.

The recent spate of heavy violence began after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva shelved a plan to hold early elections, which the Red Shirts had initially agreed to, because the protesters refused to disperse.

Renegade Major-General Khattiya Sawasdipol, a key Red backer known as Seh Daeng, died in hospital Monday after being shot in the head Thursday night.

Street violence since late Thursday has claimed 38 lives and left more than 270 wounded, officials said.

About 1,000 people attended a funeral for the general at a pagoda in the city’s historic district.

The government has ordered schools not to reopen after summer holidays, and it declared two days of national holidays to keep civilians off the streets.

The Reds consider the government illegitimate because it came to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote after a court ruling ousted elected allies of their hero, telecoms tycoon turned former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin called on the government and his Red Shirt supporters in a Monday statement to step back from a “terrible abyss” and start talks to end violence.

The two-month crisis has now left 67 people dead and about 1,700 wounded. Twenty-five people died in a failed army crackdown on April 10.

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