28 May 2010

Thoughts on Thai Violence, #7

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Timeline of Violence in Bangkok:
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2008: The “Yellow Shirts,” an ultra-conservative group, gives the nation an example of mob politics by taking over Government House and the nation's main airports. Not as much an armed group as a mob. They set the tone.
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April 2009: Red Shirt demonstrators take a lesson from the Yellows and end the ASEAN (Assoc. of South-East Asian Nations) summit by storming the venue, sending diplomats scrambling for helicopters for escape. Police did nothing.
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March 2010: Red Shirt protestors come into the city by the thousands. Their original primary headquarters is around the Phan Fah bridge, near the Democracy Monument area. Many decent rural folk are among the hotheads.
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3 April: Reds also start to occupy the central shopping district, Ratchaprasong.
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9 April: (After business at the US Embassy I try to get to Siam Square, but the streets are blocked by Reds. So I leave the taxi and walk through the Ratchaprasong intersection, which is soon to be the final Red central headquarters. Tough looking crowd.) PM Abhisit has been ordering the protestors to disperse from all their sites, as it is an illegal gathering, but the Army has dragged its feet.
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10 April: Army finally tries to move protestors out of the old part of town near the Phan Fah bridge area. Troops went in unarmed but for batons and shields, backed up if necessary by troops with rubber bullets and tear gas, and ultimately with armed troops only in backup to defend lives of troops if fired on, in accordance with international norms. Army is surprised by armed “men in black,” i.e., Red-allied snipers who fire on troops. Deputy Army chief of staff Gen. Dapong says later: “It was worse than we thought.” An Army colonel in charge at the scene – Col. Romklao, a former bodyguard to the Queen – was shot down by Red snipers, who had good inside info and targeted him at the start of the engagement. The soldiers take casualties and shoot back, and dozens are killed. Videos show men in black shooting from the shadows. It is suspected that many in the Army and police are Red allies. It is well known that suspended general Khattiya, known as “Seh Daeng” (Red Commander) is one of the more radical Reds and claims to be their military advisor, accountable only to Thaksin.
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22 April: M79 grenade attacks on Sala Daeng Skytrain station and area business district. Grenadiers were shooting from the Red stronghold of Lumpini Park.
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30 April: 200 Reds storm nearby hospital looking for suspected troops. None are found, and hospital evacuates. Red public credibility drops dramatically.
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3 May: PM Abhisit offers compromise reconciliation plan: Dissolve Parliament in late September; new elections on 14 November, address rural complaints; but Reds must stop protest now. Red leaders look like they will accept it at first, but hard-core elements – probably Khattiya and Thaksin (from abroad) – spoil its chances.
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7 May: Reds commit a fatal drive-by shooting of policeman and a later M79 attack. (I am about 400 yards from the shooting, but unaware of it, as I am listening to a live gig at Nomads Pub.)
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13 May: Red military advisor Khattiya (aka, Seh Daeng) is shot by sniper while bragging to NY Times reporter. He dies later.
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14-18 May: Army starts moving slowly against the Reds’ headquarters area by blocking streets, letting all who want to leave out but no one into the Reds’ area. Armed Reds start trouble elsewhere in capital.
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19 May: Army moves to clear the Reds out. Important embassies are within the Reds easy reach, e.g., US, UK, so Army must move. They take back Lumpini Park and move toward the Reds’ center, Ratchaprasong. It is pre-arranged that the unarmed peaceful Reds, including women and children, be sent to a nearby Buddhist temple as a safe zone. Several Red leaders surrender to police and tell the other Reds to stop the protest and go home, and they are booed by many Reds for this. Hard-core Red Guards try to persuade unarmed Red women and children – who have been staying for safety in the nearby temple – to rejoin main rally site, lying about the situation returning to normal. They want human shields and a massacre of innocents to make the Army look evil. Government provides free bus transport to Reds who want to return home in the provinces.
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19 May, evening: radical Reds start burning and looting. Over 35 buildings are torched, including the incredible Central World plaza and the old Siam theater (one of my favorites). Armed Reds fire on firefighters so that they cannot even approach the blazes for many hours. Reporters take off their green press armbands because instead of protecting them they are now making them a target of enraged Red snipers.
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We are still under curfew, but things have settled down for now. We expect more Red violence at any time in the future.
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