Bangkok Post - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Soldiers should not be used to disperse protesters, said former prime minister Anand Panyarachun and former army chief Gen Surayud Chulanont yesterday.

They were speaking at a press conference organised by the International Peace Foundation to launch a series of Bridges lectures in Bangkok from December to April on the theme of a culture of peace.

Mr Anand said the state authorities should be more careful in handling protesting crowds.

Soldiers, who are trained for combat, must not be deployed to handle peaceful protests. Only trained police should be used for crowd control and dispersal of protesters, he said.

Gen Surayud, a former army chief and supreme commander and who is now a privy councillor, said a special unit should be set up to deal specifically with such protest situations. ''We already had many lessons in the past on the military's use of force to disperse crowds. A lot of efforts had been made to solve the problem but history still repeated itself.''

''The job [of dispersing protesters] should be done by a specific unit, preferably police,'' Gen Surayud said.

Mr Anand also said peace, tolerance and understanding were key to patching up differences among people.

''You need to communicate, especially with those who disagree with you. People can get emotional, yet you've got to engage them in a dialogue and carry on a civilised communication with them.

''Hopefully, you can resolve the problem without unnecessarily resorting to violence, confrontation, physical conflict and killing,'' Mr Anand said.

Key speakers in the lecture series include Noble laureates such as Bishop Carlos Belo from East Timor, John Hume from Northern Ireland, former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq Hans Blix, and Shirin Ebadi from Iran, who last year became the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.