Mediator suspects PAD talks sabotage

Chavalit aide says 'ill-intentioned persons' also possibly behind Chaiwat's arrest

Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyuth's talks with the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) may have been sabotaged by ill-intentioned persons who wish them to fail, an aide to Chavalit said yesterday.

Those people may even have been behind Friday's arrest of Chaiwat Sinsuwong, one of the PAD's nine core leaders, said Lt-General Pirat Swami-wat, Chavalit's aide de camp in charge of laying the groundwork for the negotiations. Pirat said the negotiations had had to be put off, but Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat insisted yesterday that the arrest would not affect the talks.

PAD core leader Chamlong Srimuang said he wanted an answer from Chavalit about the arrest and would not go ahead with talks if dissatisfied with the answer.

Chavalit still wants the planned talks to continue despite Chaiwat's arrest, according to PAD coordinator Suriyasai Katasila, who talked over the phone to someone close to Chavalit.

Pirat told a local FM radio station that Chavalit was deeply concerned about the status of the talks because the groundwork had been nearly complete before the arrest on Friday of PAD co-leader Chaiwat, who is wanted for treason among other charges.

"All [preliminary] talks had taken place, and there were only minor details left," Pirat said, adding that some common ground and respect had been reached but the plan was now on hold.

Pirat refused to clarify who might have sabotaged the talks, but said Chavalit had instructed him after the arrest to forge ahead with a meeting between Chamlong and himself.

Somchai said yesterday that the arrest of Chaiwat was entirely a matter for the judiciary and nothing to do with the planned negotiations. He said the courts could not be interfered with and the incident should not affect the talks.

Chamlong told a press conference yesterday he believed Chavalit was being undermined by people in government and the police who wished the talks to fail. He called the arrest a slap in the face to Chavalit.

Chamlong said he would not telephone Chavalit first but if he received a call from him he would ask about Chaiwat. If the answer were unsatisfactory the talks would not proceed.

A grim-faced Chamlong also challenged the police to arrest him as well and said he did not think the treason charges against himself and eight other PAD leaders would stick.

Other PAD leaders were equally dour, and although protesters at the occupied Government House were not told to pressure the government to release Chaiwat, PAD groups in 14 southern provinces issued a statement saying they were ready to bring such pressure to bear to release him.

Chaiwat was transferred to Bangkok Special Prison yesterday, where some 100 PAD supporters went to demonstrate support. Some cried upon seeing him board a prison vehicle.

Nattee Jitsawang, director-general of the Corrections Department, said Chaiwat would be treated like any other inmate with visits by relatives limited to 15 minutes per person.