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[ 2015-04-01 ]

PM seeks King's approval to lift martial law

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday said he has forwarded a draft announcement lifting martial law to His Majesty the King for endorsement.

"I have asked for the King's permission to lift martial law. The power is now with His Majesty," Gen Prayut told reporters, adding that he would replace martial law with an order issued under Section 44 of the interim constitution.

He said the draft of the order has been completed.  The Section 44 order would replace martial law, which has been in force nationwide since shortly before the May 22 coup, once it is lifted.

Section 44 gives the National Council for Peace and Order chief unrestricted right to exercise the powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government to promote reform and unity, and suppress threats to national security, the royal institution and the economy.

Reuters reported that Gen Prayut said the Section 44 order contained six parts to address national security. It would allow the military to detain people for up to seven days without charge and would allow soldiers to apprehend groups and detain people without an arrest warrant.

Military tribunals will continue to be used for national security cases, Reuters added.

Disathat Hotrakit, secretary-general of the Council of State, confirmed that the draft order was completed on Monday night.

Earlier Tuesday, Lt Gen Kampanart Ruddit, the 1st Army commander and director of the peacekeeping force under the NCPO, said he was duty-bound to follow his superior's lawful orders under Section 44  and to adhere to the principles of human rights.

He believed any action taken by the prime minister was aimed at maintaining law and order and enabling the country to move forward.

Lt Gen Kampanart said he wanted people to be united and not to quarrel.

Asked whether the government and NCPO still felt the need to enforce certain laws to curb resistance movements, Lt Gen Kampanart said: "We assess the situation on a daily basis and we know everything that happens. In coping with resistance we mainly resort to holding talks, to promote understanding with every group, and avoid the use of force.

"We are not heavy-hearted. I think the country can still move forward. Problems that have accumulated over a long time are being solved.

"To what extent the problems can be solved depends on how much time we have. We will try to get everything solved as soon as possible."

Bank of Thailand governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said he believed invoking Section 44 would help build confidence in the country.

There were still many undercurrents requiring the government to have special tools to handle the situation, he said.

Mr Prasarn said he felt the use of Section 44 was acceptable, but it must be properly explained to the people. Moreover, its use should also be temporary, he said.

Rights groups wary

Rights groups and some political leaders expressed criticism.

"To revoke martial law and exercise Section 44 instead is risky because the section gives the PM absolute authority," National Human Rights Commissioner Nirat Pitakwatchara told the German Press Agency.

"During a time that the country is trying to promote national reform and solve inequality issues, I doubt that it's suitable to use Section 44 or martial law," he told dpa.

Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch told Reuters that replacing martial law with Section 44 would give Gen Prayut near-total impunity.

"Under Section 44, there is no limit to power and whatever is decided will be considered constitutional and will be difficult to challenge," said Mr Sunai.

"It is an ultimate power without accountability. This is something very unique and worrying and it is not going to improve the rights situation and ongoing repression," he told the news agency.

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