Thailand's Royal Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong gestures during a news conference at the Thai Army headquarters in Bangkok
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's new army chief on Wednesday did not rule out another military intervention if there was political conflict after the return of civilian rule in a general election next year.
General Apirat Kongsompong, who took up his post this month, said the army was being closely watched and would strive to remain neutral.
"We have to tread carefully... We cannot let politics use us," Apirat told reporters in Bangkok.
When asked by a reporter if he was prepared to launch another coup, Apirat said: "If politics does not create conflict like in the past, there is no need for us to intervene."
Thailand has been under military rule since a May 2014 coup which the army said was necessary to restore order after months of pro and anti-government protests.
The government, led by former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, the current prime minister, has repeatedly delayed elections with the latest poll date now set for February 2019.
The Southeast Asian country has a history of military interference starting in 1932 with the overthrow of the absolute monarchy through a bloodless revolt.
In 2006, the military ousted popularly elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications billionaire.
The latest 2014 putsch saw his sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, ejected from power.
The coups were part of a long-running power struggle between Shinawatra supporters and the military-backed royalist elite.
(Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa and Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Darren Schuettler)