Thai general denies military coup was planned

media captionLt Gen Chatchalerm Chalermsukh: "The military belongs to all Thai people, not just one group"

A senior Thai general has told the BBC that last month's military coup was not planned in advance.

It comes after an opposition leader claimed the army had been discussing overthrowing the government for years.

Lt Gen Chatchalerm Chalermsukh also said those detained by the military since the coup were being treated well.

And he said controversial former PM Thaksin Shinawatra and his family could still return to Thai politics.

The military seized power in the South-East Asian nation on 22 May, saying it wanted to return stability to Thailand after months of political and social unrest.

It has promised a return to democracy, but only after it has carried out sweeping reforms of the political system.

image copyrightAFP
image captionThe army prevents gatherings of protesters in the capital, Bangkok

Few people on either side of the political divide believe the unwavering line of the coup leaders - led by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha - that the military is a neutral player and that it did not plan the coup long before it happened, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

But, he continues, they have to present it as a last-minute intervention forced on them by circumstance because for all the many coups there have been in Thailand, each one is an act of treason, punishable by execution if it fails.

This is why the statement by protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban that he had discussed overthrowing the government with Gen Prayuth many times in recent years is so damaging, our correspondent adds.

'Forces in place'

"So far as I know there was no advanced planning," Gen Chatchalerm told our correspondent.

"If it were planned that would be illegitimate. If you are wondering why this happened so smoothly, that was because forces were already deployed in the city [Bangkok]. So when we declared martial law, there were already joint military and police forces in place in the area, " said the general, who is army deputy chief of staff and a member of the National Council for Peace and Order that now governs Thailand.

Since the coup, hundreds of people have been detained in an apparent crackdown on dissent by the military.

But Gen Chatchalerm said the places where they were being held are "not really like places of detention".

"They are like guest houses," he said.

image copyrightReuters
image captionGen Prayuth Chan-ocha says democracy will only return after reforms are put in place

"There are no barbed-wire fences, and we have showed these places to human rights groups. We even broadcast pictures of them on national TV. We showed interviews with some of the summonsed people. Everyone was satisfied with this."

He also suggested that the military would be lenient in pressing charges against those who have been arrested.

"When it gets to court - civilian or military - the punishment will not be that severe," he said.

Analysis: Jonathan Head, BBC South-East Asia correspondent, Bangkok

image copyrightAFP

There has been more censorship after this coup, and less tolerance of dissent, than most Thais will have ever experienced. The coup is bitterly opposed by many red-shirt supporters of the ousted government, although few now dare to express this openly.

The generals certainly have a public relations challenge. They are not used to dealing with the blunt questions of journalists, and there is always an element of stiff uneasiness that you don't get with politicians.

What does come across in talking to the generals is their determination to reshape Thailand this time so that there is an end to the last eight years of turmoil.

That is why, they say, activists must abandon their old political loyalties. They want a national "forgetting" of recent animosities and a focus on old-fashioned, sentimental nationalism, bolstered by Thailand's brand of ultra-nationalism.

Supporters of the coup alleged that the ousted government of Yingluck Shinawatra was controlled by her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was prime minister until his removal by the military in 2006.

Thaksin was later convicted of corruption and lives in self-imposed exile.

The Shinawatra family enjoy strong support in rural and northern areas that has propelled them to successive election wins.

However, many in the middle class and urban elite oppose them bitterly, alleging they have corrupted Thai democracy with money politics.

Despite this, Gen Chatchalerm said it was still possible that Mr Thaksin could return to politics after reforms were complete.

image copyrightAP
image captionThaksin Shinawatra lives in self-imposed exile

"When we reach the final stage, with a new election, the reforms will have been completed," he said.

"Everyone who is Thai and is qualified can take part in that election - even the family of Thaksin Shinawatra."

"You will see the way we run things - we are not hunting Thaksin, as we did before. He is free to do anything. We would like to see him come back and fight the legal charges against him. If he is confident he can win, then he will be able to return to politics."

Earlier this week, exiled Thai minister Charupong Reuangsuwan said he had formed a group to lead a campaign against the military government.

He is the only minister to have escaped into exile.

Mr Charupong called the coup "an outrageous act" and "grand larceny".

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