Washington. A close aide to Thailand’s ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is seeking United States help to resolve the kingdom’s turmoil as he tries to soften the image of the Red Shirt protest movement.
Noppadon Pattama, a former foreign minister, is on a mission to Washington that comes as a sharp challenge to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has won United States backing for his reconciliation plan and opposes outside mediation.
“We hope that the United States administration will be more engaged about the situation in Thailand. They can use diplomatic channels to encourage the government to look at our proposal,” said Noppadon, a legal adviser to Thaksin.
“It doesn’t mean they interfere with Thai politics. You can give friendly advice to your friend — it’s just natural,” he said.
“US-Thai relations are very important and if your friend is weak or is divided, it may not fulfill the potential that it has.”
Thaksin, a self-made tycoon turned prime minister, was deposed by the army in 2006.
He lives in self-imposed exile to avoid prison at home on corruption charges he contends are politically motivated.
Thailand, a longstanding United States ally, has since undergone persistent unrest. Red Shirt protesters — many of them rural people who support Thaksin’s populist measures — laid siege to central Bangkok this year in a bid to topple Abhisit.
The army dispersed them in May after negotiations broke down. A series of violent clashes and the final military assault left 90 people dead and nearly 1,900 injured.
In images broadcast around the world, symbols of Thailand’s cosmopolitanism went up in flames, including the stock exchange and a major shopping center, parts of which burned to the ground.
Abhisit’s government, while saying that many Red Shirts had legitimate grievances, charged that armed and Marxist elements were among the crowds.
Noppadon accused the government of misrepresenting the Red Shirts and their movement, saying: “I don’t want the United States or the United States population to misunderstand that the Red Shirts are terrorists.”
“They are just farmers, they are just democracy lovers, they are people who dislike double standards,” Noppadon said.
Abhisit’s reconciliation plan includes respect for the monarchy, greater social equality, an impartial media, an independent probe into the political unrest and debate on the need for constitutional reform.