Thai opposition quits peace panel, fears Thaksin amnesty

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 27, 2012 4:29 AM
Thai opposition quits peace panel, fears Thaksin amnesty

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's main opposition party withdrew on Tuesday from a parliamentary reconciliation panel in protest at an independent study it said was aimed at whitewashing exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra of his graft conviction.

The house committee has taken up the study's recommendation of a general amnesty for those guilty of crimes related to the country's long-running political crisis.

The Democrat Party suggested the plan, drafted by King Prajadhipok's Institute (KPI), was aimed at facilitating the return and political comeback of twice-elected Thaksin, who fled into exile in 2008 before being sentenced to two years in prison for conflict of interest when he was in power.

Thaksin was overthrown in a military coup in 2006.

"The decision to include the report at a parliamentary meeting is an excuse to work towards a pardon," Democrat MP Jurin Luksanawisit told reporters.

Thaksin's homecoming is a divisive issue in Thailand, where he is loved and despised in equal measure. Many analysts believe his return could upset the current fragile peace and trigger another round of bloody confrontation.

The committee was set up by the then ruling Democrats in 2010, in the wake of a 10-week protest by Thaksin's supporters that was crushed by the military, leaving 91 dead and more than 1,800 wounded in several clashes.

Thaksin still enjoys huge support among the rural masses but has powerful enemies among the conservative elite, the military and the royalist "yellow shirts" protest movement, all of which he says have undermined his governments, or those of his allies.

Thaksin's politically inexperienced sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is now prime minister but is widely regarded as his proxy. Her coalition controls three-fifths of parliament.

The KPI report was commissioned by the reconciliation panel's chairman, Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, a retired general who led the coup against Thaksin. It was unclear why he was now pushing a proposal that could lead to Thaksin's return.

KPI has also recommended the dropping, or transfer to another judicial body, of all legal cases lodged against Thaksin by the Assets Examination Committee, which was set up by the coup makers to probe Thaksin, a billionaire former telecoms tycoon, and his former cabinet.

The Democrats have urged changes to KPI's recommendations and say the proposals are being pushed through too quickly.

"All sides need to be heard and matters should not be rushed," Democrat MP Nakorn Machin said. "If parliament doesn't listen to the minority, it won't be true reconciliation."

(Reporting by Aukkapon Niyomyat and Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Martin Petty and Ron Popeski)