As is to be expected, as the birthday of Queen Sirikit comes around and as she continues her recovery from her stroke, the palace propaganda machine kicks up a gear. There are three stories in Sunday’s English-language newspapers, and these stories have been headlines in most Thai-language editions as well. That’s in addition to the required tribute pages (see examples at The Nation and Matichon’s emetic “Love Mother” page).
The most immediately eye-catching story is the one that claims that the queen has “graciously granted Bt20 million to help the 2,000 residents of Bangkok’s Bon Kai area who were affected by the 2010 political riot…”. The term “riot” is a misnomer for the events at Bon Kai in May 2010 amounted to a revolt against the royalist establishment.
The Nation states that General Naphol Boonthap stated that the queen “instructed him to check on residents of Bon Kai who were affected by the 2010 riot, and to provide seedling money for their small businesses as well as relief bags.”
The Bangkok Post reveals that the general “is now deputy Chief Aide-de-Camp General to His Majesty the King. He also serves on a team of personal staff working for Her Majesty the Queen.” He’s a former assistant army chief and former chief of the Second Army.
It seems that “[u]pon Her Majesty’s instruction, he said he disguised himself to seek information from residents in the area.”
Sounds like he was a royal spy. Long-time followers of royal stuff will likely recall that the king reportedly sent officers like royal policeman Vasit Dejkunjorn out to spy on student activists in the 1973-76 period.
The queen reportedly gave 20 million baht to some 2,000 people after the general discovered that:
Many residents were seen to be red-shirt supporters. He said that at the time the residents were angry and blamed soldiers for making their lives miserable. They claimed the tools of their trade were damaged by gunfire from security officers.
That is hardly a revelation, but caused the royal spy to give away the looted loot saying:
“At first, some did not believe [that aid money was being dispensed],” Gen Naphon said. “They were afraid they were being lured into joining the [red shirt] protest. But they were filled with joy when I told them that Her Majesty knew of their hardship and donated the money so they could use it to buy new equipment to make a living…”.
In making this point, the royal aide is simply reconfirming the notion that red shirts were duped, paid or both. The queen’s intervention seems designed to attend to both stereotypes.
These comments came in the context of a broader statement that the king and queen “are concerned about the violence in the South…”. Most specifically they worry about Buddhists and Buddhist monks.
There’s nothing new in this chauvinism on the queen’s part. On 11 February 2010, a U.S. Embassy cable released by Wikileaks stated:
The most recently created, and problematic, militia is the Village Protection Volunteers (in Thai: Ratsadorn Asa Raksa Moobahn, or Or Ror Bor). In 2004, in response to multiple entreaties from Buddhist villagers seeking protection after the upsurge in violence, Queen Sirikit ordered the military to provide training for interested people. Deputy Royal Aide-de-Camp GEN Naphol Boonthap established the Village Protection Volunteers (VPV) and made arrangements to provide each village with shotguns. Members can purchase these shotguns at a 60 percent discount from the original cost, according to Nonviolence International’s Southeast Asia report for 2009. Phinit Intharaksa, an assistant to GEN Naphol, told us that most of the weapons are loaned to VPV volunteers, who must purchase their own ammunition. VPV members attend a seven-day initiation training course conducted by the military and the MOI and are supposed to attend five-day refresher training courses twice a year.
Each Village Protection Volunteer unit received a lump-sum payment each month, similar to the VDV. Funding comes from the military budget, as VPV units report to the local task force commanders, who then report to the Fourth Area Army Commander, according to Pattani deputy district chief Abdulkarim. The widely-held perception on the ground is that the VPV answers to GEN Naphol, with a secret budget from the military, according to the Daily News reporter who spoke with us. Nonviolence International’s 2009 report stated that each VPV unit received 300,000 baht ($9,900) a month. GEN Naphol’s representative Phinit also told us that VPV members were not individually compensated. Narathiwat Vice-Governor Niphon, however, claimed to us that VPV members each received 4,500 baht ($150) per month. Abdulkarim also said that VPV members were given a monthly stipend.
Phaisan Toyib, President of the Islamic Private School Association in Narathiwat, told us that of all the militias, the VPV were the most troublesome. Most notably, the June shooting at the Al Furqon Mosque in Narathiwat (REF D) was widely attributed to VPV members from a nearby village (NOTE: Thai authorities have arrested one suspect, an ex-ranger and VPV member, see REF A). Several of our interlocutors attributed this generally negative perception of the VPV to the exclusively Thai Buddhist composition of the VPV. The journalist from the Daily News said VPV members were most likely to view the insurgency as a religious issue, something he said was very frightening. He also claimed to us that most villagers associated the group with the Queen and not solely GEN Naphon; [and] … this damaged the Queen’s reputation in the South….
Today’s report at the Bangkok Post makes it clear that for the general and the queen, nothing has changed. They ignore that Malay Muslims are victims of violence and concentrate on “Buddhist monks and civilians…”. General Naphol says “the southern unrest persists due to insurgents’ attempts to exploit religions and faiths, and spur their followers on to violence.”
Presumably the same one-sided perspective informs his and the queen’s view on the 2010 violence.
Royals, hyper-nationalism and violence are linked in the south and in anti-red shirt actions and propaganda as they were in the 1970s when the chauvinist right-wing was unleashed by the palace.