Thai Military Rulers Angry Over News Reports on Coup

Thailand's new military rulers complained Saturday about what they consider inaccurate foreign news reports on the coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Lt. Gen. Palanggoon Klaharn, spokesman for the ruling military council, said the Foreign Ministry had been ordered to take "proactive action" to correct what he called misreporting. He also said some foreign journalists had presented news that insulted the country's monarchy.

He did not cite any specific reports or say what kind of response there might be, but said clarifications had been given to foreign diplomats.

CountryWatch: Thailand

Several foreign news reports and analyses have suggested tension between King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Thaksin's administration could have contributed to the staging of Tuesday night's bloodless military takeover.

Under Thai law and tradition, it is taboo even to suggest that the king — a constitutional monarch with limited powers — might play a role in politics.

News reports from abroad have also quoted Western governments and human rights groups as calling the coup a setback for democracy and criticizing restrictions placed by the military council on freedom of assembly and the media.

The coup, carried out while Thaksin was abroad, met no open resistance and was generally welcomed by the public in Bangkok, where tens of thousands of people demonstrated earlier this year seeking Thaksin's resignation for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

The military has said it would hand over power in two weeks to an interim civilian prime minister and that a new election would be held by next October. It has assumed all security, administrative and legislative powers and placed restrictions on Thai media, instructing news organizations to cooperate in maintaining order.

The new leaders are also working on drafting both an interim and permanent constitution to replace the 1997 one they scrapped when they took power.

The Nation newspaper in Bangkok reported Saturday that former Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngarm said the interim constitution was nearly finished and could be presented to the military council Monday.

Palanggoon said Friday that the council would work to eliminate "loopholes" in a new charter. The 1997 constitution, which the coup makers scrapped, was supposed to usher in democratic reforms, but instead allowed Thaksin to accrue great powers for himself.

Meanwhile, a military official said Saturday that some of Thaksin's wealth could be seized if an investigation determined he profited from corruption or abuse of power.

"The assets and money he had before he became prime minister will not be touched," said a high-ranking official, who agreed to discuss the matter only if granted anonymity because the investigation's details had not been made public.

Klanarong Chanthik, a member of a nine-member anti-corruption commission appointed Friday, said he couldn't comment on specifics of the investigation.

Thaksin's family is among the wealthiest in Southeast Asia. In January, he sold the centerpiece of his empire — telecommunications giant Shin Corp. — to Singapore's state investment company, Temasek Holdings, for $1.9 billion. Critics allege the sale involved insider trading and complain a key national asset is now in a foreign government's hands.

The head of the country's central bank, Pridiyathorn Devakul, was quoted in The Nation as saying that the proceeds from the sale were probably still in the country.

Thaksin's wife, Pojamarn, has remained in Bangkok since the coup, leading to speculation that she is trying to protect the family fortune. Thaksin is in London, where he has a house.

"They all have the basic right to stay and lead normal lives here. They are living in freedom and without any disturbance, control or restrictions," Palanggoon, the military spokesman, told The Associated Press.

The military reiterated Saturday that Thaksin can also come home. "We still consider him a Thai citizen and he is welcome to return to Thailand," Palanggoon said.

The ruling military council faces a host of urgent tasks, including restoration of peace in southern Thailand, where a Muslim insurgency has killed more than 1,700 people.

With Thaksin's ouster, many in Thailand are hoping some headway can be made in quelling the bloody separatist insurgency since Thaksin's iron-fisted policies in the south were seen as exacerbating the rebellion. The army commander, Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, a Muslim who led the coup, is expected to be more flexible in dealing with the rebels.