BANGKOK - The army's coup d'etat in Thailand was illegal but necessary as a "cooling off" period to prevent the country from becoming a failed state, an army general told foreign media on Thursday.
Even planning for the seizure of power was an act of "high treason" punishable by death, Lieutenant-General Chatchalerm Chalermsuk admitted, in the first briefing for foreign media by a ranking general of the military junta that seized power on May 22 and has since launched a wide crackdown on dissent aimed principally at elements aligned with former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
"We were forced to take action to prevent Thailand from becoming a failed state. We took a lot of risk in taking this action so that the country could move forward. We made a lot of sacrifice, it is an offence punishable by death should we fail," he added.
Though the Thai people were banking on compromise in the negotiations kick started by army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha under martial law, the positions of the warring parties did not change, Gen Chatchalerm said.
"The political polarisation would have led to a civil war. Security agencies could not let Thailand go down that path," he said.
Briefing the media alongside the general, and reading from a prepared text, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Sek Wannamethee said: "The prolonged political deadlock and administrative paralysis was devastating.
"For the first time in years, GDP growth in the second quarter was negative. Daily life was disrupted. Had Thailand continued on that path it would have led to more conflict."
Gen Chatchalerm said Thailand would not become isolationist. The intention was to "put the country back on track to full democracy."
He added, however, "the time frame would depend on the situation."
Mr Sek said none of the people summoned to report to the junta and put in "so-called detention" had been kept for more than five days thus far. Martial law allows the military to detain people without charge for up to seven days.
Mr Sek also for the first time, claimed that former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra who had reported to the junta last Friday, had "gone home" after two hours.
Separately on Thursday morning, Gen Prayuth was set to meet with his newly appointed advisory board, comprising top generals and a selection of technocrats.
The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) was committed to "practical and responsible policies," Mr Sek said.