Officials defy Suthep talks order

Defence permanent secretary Nipat Thonglek has defended his meeting with Suthep Thaugsuban after leading other ministry officials into talks with the anti-government leader who visited the ministry on Wednesday, saying he did not offer him "a warm welcome".

His remark came after an order was issued by the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO) prohibiting state officials from leaving their desks during office hours to talk to the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters when they rally outside their ministries.

The order was issued after Kittipong Kritayarak, permanent secretary for justice, on Tuesday led top ministry officials into talks with Mr Suthep for 30 minutes in a formal reception room at the Justice Ministry to exchange ideas on national reform.

Gen Nipat said Mr Suthep asked to meet him to explain the real intentions of the PDRC in their struggle for reforms and he thought he should accept his request.

But he said the talks were held in a small room used by the guards, not in a warm and hospitable manner.    

“Today was the first time I had met Mr Suthep. I am not involved in politics and have no authority to bargain [with Mr Suthep]. The atmosphere at the talks today went well,” Gen Nipat said.  

“Mr Suthep arrived when I was in a daily meeting, but it was my intention and openness to listen to what was in Mr Suthep’s mind. 

“I hope the atmosphere that enabled our talks will be a step and a bridge to the next round of talks. After the Songkran festival, we may meet again if Mr Suthep has [new] proposals and there are legal channels for it.”

Meanwhile, caretaker Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri said he would not order a disciplinary probe against Mr Kittipong as he was a good man and had his points of view. 

But he said Mr Kittipong acted inappropriately when he invited Mr Suthep, whom he called the leader of the insurrection group, to talks in a ministry reception room, as opposed to alerting police to arrest him. He said Mr Kittipong’s conduct tainted the image of the justice ministry.   

Mr Kittipong has suggested on several occasions since late last year that national reform must take place immediately and urged both sides of the political divide to settle their differences through a group of impartial mediators. 

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