Suthep Thuagsuban (left) and General Prayuth Chan-Ocha. Pics: AP.

Former opposition politician and anti-government protest leader Suthep Thuagsuban claims to have been in talks with Thailand’s army chief and coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha to topple the governments associated to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra “since 2010″, according to local media.

The Bangkok Post reported on Monday…

[Suthep] admitted for the first time he had discussed with the coup-maker Prayuth Chan-ocha strategies to root out the influence of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies since the 2010 political violence.

Mr Suthep broke his silence at a fund-raising dinner on Saturday night at the Pacific Club in Bangkok.

His remarks suggest Gen Prayuth has been actively plotting to bring down former prime minister Yingluck Shinwatra, including the period leading up to the coup when she was defense minister. (…)

He said he chats regularly to Gen Prayuth and his team via the Line chat app.

“Before martial law was declared, Gen Prayuth told me ‘Khun Suthep and your masses of PDRC supporters are too exhausted. It’s now the duty of the army to take over the task’, ” Mr Suthep said.

He had consulted Gen Prayuth since the 2010 political unrest on how to root out the so-called Thaksin regime and join hands to reform the country, fight corruption and dissolve colour-coded politics that divided Thais.

Suthep in talks with Prayuth ‘since 2010’“, Bangkok Post, June 23, 2014

In 2010, Suthep was deputy prime minister in charge of national security and director of the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES), which was tasked with overseeing the security situation during the red shirt protests in Bangkok (including authorizing the use of deadly force). Gen. Prayuth was at the time deputy commander-in-chief and tipped to become the successor to then-army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda. Both played a pivotal role in the deadly crackdown on the red shirt protesters in May 2010 which killed at least 90 people and injured thousands.

So it should come as no surprise that Suthep and the military have maintained contact since 2010 – but also already before that: a leaked US diplomatic cable from 2008 notes that Suthep “maintains contacts in all camps, including the military”. Also, it explains the apparent refusal to intervene when the Suthep’s anti-government protesters were occupying large areas in central Bangkok and obstructing the elections earlier this year.

Also, Reuters reported in December that former defense minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan and former army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda were supporting Suthep’s protests behind the scenes. Both Gen. Prawit and Gen. Anopong are now serving as the junta’s chief advisor and its deputy, respectively.

Nevertheless, the reaction from the military junta was equally unsurprising:

“Gen Prayuth insisted he had never talked or exchanged messages in private with Mr Suthep,” Col Winthai said.

“He said as leader of a security force, he had been assigned by the then government to persuade all groups to negotiate, a feat that had never been achieved,” he said.

“Yingluck Shinawatra, the government at the time, instructed the army to warn all groups to avoid breaking the law and protect the people,” he said. (…)

According to sources, Gen Prayuth was “very upset” with Mr Suthep as the atmosphere is improving. 

Prayuth denies Suthep’s coup plotting claim“, Bangkok Post, June 23, 2014

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post‘s “military correspondent” Wassana Nanuam has clarified that the initial report was not based on a third party source, but on a Bangkok Post colleague who actually attended Suthep’s charity event on Saturday:

Whether or not Suthep was either reminding us that the protest movement he led is still alive or reminding the military junta about their role in the run-up to the military coup, it does show yet again that the interests of those that demanded and ultimately chased out the government of Yingluck Shinawatra were, and still are, closely aligned.

P.S.: About that LINE conversation…

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About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut blogs about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and works as freelance foreign TV correspondent. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.