King helps foil Thai coup

The collapse of the coup attempt against Thailand's Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda has: 1. Reaffirmed the unifying influence of the country's revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

2. Prevented a lengthy and weakening civil war that could have been an invitation for Vietnamese intervention from Cambodia.

3. Reaffirmed the strong Thai inclination to avoid bloody confrontation by giving the other side a graceful way out.

As of this writing it appeared that King Bhumibol himself had played a major part in preventing the abortive coup beginning April 1 from escalating into bloodshed. (Only a few shots were fired as loyalist Prem troops, advancing from their northeast base of Korat, retook the capital, Bangkok, April 3.)

First of all, the King withheld support from the Bangkok Putsch by Gen. Sant Chitpatima. That helped prevent consolidation of General Sant's power.

Secondly, the royal family vacated Bangkok for its northeast residence, not far from the Korat base to which General Prem had fled. That, plus a statement by the Queen broadcast by Prem's radio, gave the impression the royal family backed General Prem, not General Sant.

Thirdly, the King repeatedly called for avoidence of bloodshed and reconciliation between the Bangkok-based forces of General Sant and General Prem's Korat-based forces.

Formally or informally, the King's good offices appeared to have helped along the agreement under which general Sant's forces laid down their arms. (General Prem pledged an amnesty to Sant forces who return to their post. By one account there was some kind of agreement allowing for the peaceful helicopter escape by General Sant.)

Generally the Thai King strives to stay above politics. But this time his subtle and often symbolic intervention on what appeared to be Prem's side undoubtedly swayed many a soldier.

It showed once again that despite the guns of the military, the monarchy can still be a decisive unifying force in Thailand.

The King's repeated call to avoid a violent confrontation also acted to reinforce what is often seen as an important Thai trait.

These days the desire to stress unity and avoid civil war seems especially strong given the strong Vietnamese military presence in neighboring Cambodia.

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