Many of the yellow-shirt related blogs have been full of conspiracies, fantastic concoctions, third hands and calls for tougher government action against the hated red shirts. As a summary of this sometimes bloodthirsty, sometime bizarre expressions of hate and fear, nothing seems to top Sopon Onkgara’s latest op-ed in The Nation.
The propaganda battle continues, with the government offering a particular conspiracy theory of “terrorists” bent on bringing down the monarchy, and this is beginning to be repeated in the media and diplomatic circles, giving it credence it ill deserves. At the same time, diatribes like Sopon’s assume that his readers already accept these versions of events and peddle a hatred that mirrors the most extreme right-wing attacks on students and other protesters back in 1975 and 1976.
Under the headline “Thaksin’s red shirts upgrade campaign to terrorism,” Sopon has immediately supported Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s position. He then states: “Among the crazed red shirts were men armed with weapons such as M16 and AK47 assault rifles, M79 grenade launchers and hand grenades. Their targets were the soldiers.” PPT has to say that the evidence for these claims is still very thin. We do not doubt that there were armed people amongst the red shirts, but looking at the images shows that some pictures are being heavily recycled and that the overwhelming majority of fighting between the red shirts and the soldiers clearly shows the latter armed to the teeth facing people using sticks and rocks.
The authorities were heavily armed but Sopon makes it sound like they weren’t: “It was a lop-sided battle from the start.” His own story is illogical: he says the “soldiers were instructed by their commanding officers not to use firearms except to defend themselves.” But when they are attacked with weapons that appear to be war weapons, he says they don’t fight back, because there are no “secure positions.” He ignores the facts: the majority of casualties were sustained by the red shirts.
But Sopon wants a frenzy of hatred. He says that the “red-shirt leaders have lived up to their vow. They intend to upgrade their fight into a free-for-all against government forces. Terrorism has become their means to achieve victory. No more attempts to hide the hidden agenda under false claims of peace and ahimsa.” For Sopon, there are “urban terrorists” at work within the red shirts, and he had “expected” these terrorists “to show their menace once confrontation with government troops occurred. They chose the time well, right after dusk, when they covered their heads with hoods and selected their targets with minimal discrimination.” Yes there are a few pictures of hooded people with weapons and some pictures of muzzle flashes from roof tops and one of a shot from ground level. But, this proves little. All of the autopsies done so far are suggesting that the red shirts killed were shot with high-powered weapons that the military uses.
Sopon blames the government for not giving the military commanders full reign: “It was wrong from the beginning when Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, in charge of security affairs, took command of operations instead of delegating the task to a commanding general.” Sopon hates Suthep because he hasn’t been tough enough and because he doesn’t understand that the red shirts are all gullible fools: “After peace was restored [last April], instead of taking tough legal action against the ringleaders and preventive measures such as an active media campaign to educate the gullible victims of propaganda (and money distributed by the cronies of Thaksin Shinawatra) the government did virtually nothing until the revival of the red shirts.” He wants the red shirts leaders imprisoned and the keys thrown away; for him they are traitors.
But back to the terror angle: “The red shirts have become a real force of terror in the city this year. They roam the streets on motorcycles, in pickup trucks and other vehicles including taxis and tuk-tuks. They are menacing, spoiling for blood, and will react with senseless brutality if provoked.” We are not sure that Sopon and PPT have been in the same city. This has certainly not been our experience and indeed, as we reported earlier, the red shirt rallies have been, until the past few days, wholly good-natured.
Sopon hates the red shirts, who he says “remind many people” – we assume Sopon at least – “of thugs in Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Somalia. They are a brute force…. They are bloodthirsty political thugs, paid well to serve masters who are crooks seeking political power.” Sopon has always considered that every red shirt, all the millions of them, are in the pay of Thaksin Shinawatra.
Seemingly hysterical, Sopon charges the “chiefs of the armed forces and the defence minister” as suffering “total indifference, if not ignorance, towards a crisis which is threatening to lead the country into anarchy. None offered to take responsibility for the failure and fatalities.” Expecting more attacks on “government premises,” Sopon says this amounts to “full-blown treason with terrorism.”
Sopon essentially calls for blood: “Prime Minister Abhisit has a few choices left. If he wants to survive this snowballing terror, he must delegate authority to the military to take action and deal with the red shirts by whatever means to restore law and order, with martial law as the last resort.” Whatever means necessary because the whole establishment is threatened: “The national institutions, especially the monarchy, face real peril.” This is a call for the yellow shirts, the right-wing, the military and the establishment to unite and defeat the evil red shirts and their gullible, paid supporters. It is a call for war, for class war.
The sad thing is that Sopon is not some crazed fool, but is reflective of a minority opinion that may have considerable traction in the Democrat Party-led government and that party’s strong yellow-shirted wing. The last time such calls went out, many died.
Update 1: And then there is People’s Alliance for Democracy-cum-Democrat Party Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya. In the Washington Post he blames all the deaths on Thaksin: “Thailand’s foreign minister says former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is personally instigating the country’s deadliest political clashes in nearly two decades. Kasit Piromya on Monday compared Thaksin to 20th century dictators Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin and to the terror group al-Qaida. Kasit said on the sidelines of a global nuclear summit that Thaksin is ‘a bloody terrorist’.”
Kasit is calling on the “United States to pressure Thaksin’s supporters to turn away from violence and enter into negotiations with the government.” We wonder if he has convinced his own Democrat Party’s yellow wing to accept negotiations? Will they negotiate with those who Sopon says are like “thugs in Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Somalia. …[B]loodthirsty political thugs, paid well to serve masters who are crooks seeking political power.” Probably not, and PPT thinks Kasit is simply posturing on the international stage.
For PPT, Kasit’s statements are an accurate reflection, along with Sopon’s rant, of yellow-shirted opinion post-Saturday. It remains a dangerous time.
Update 2: A longer AFP report on Kasit’s comments make his position clearer still. He has attacked Thaksin and the “international community.” He is said to have “lashed out at the international community … for failing to take action against fugitive ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whom he blamed for the country’s political unrest.” Kasit lambasted Russia, Nicaragua, Montenegro, Germany and Dubai for “washing their hands but he [Thaksin] is a bloody terrorist.” He stated that this amounted to an “act of interference by third countries…”. Kasit “likened Thaksin to an Al-Qaeda terrorist and past ‘elected’ leaders such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini.” Kasit seems to have a jaundiced view of elections (and a poor knowledge of history) claiming: “Hitler was elected, Mussolini was elected, even Stalin could say that he was elected also but what did they do to their very society?”
Kasit lamented that the “world demanded for more democracy in Thailand” however it “allows Thaksin to run loose as if nothing happens…”.
The report adds some comments made by deputy premier Trairong Suwannakiri, who stated that the military has a “duty” to “take care of the country and restore order…”.
Update 3: The audio from one of Kasit’s statements is here. PPT somehow ended up on the end of a series of emails that was mainly being sent around within the yellow wing of the Democrats, including Abhisit, Panitan Wattanayagorn and General Pathompong Kesornsuk, and to several army email addresses. Citing army chief Anupong Paojinda’s call for a political solution, it attacked this idea and dismissed it in very short terms. PPT wonders what kind of solution they want? General Pathompong, who famously appeared on the People’s Alliance for Democracy stage, stated immediately before the crackdown what his thinking was: “I used to think that people like General Anupong Paochinda or General Prayuth were fine officers. Now I wonder why they’re not doing anything [about the crisis].” He added: “Soldiers may drink or become womanisers but that’s okay as long as they are first and foremost loyal to the throne and the nation. They should not leak government secrets.” His view was that soldiers “must protect the country from being exploited for private interests. They must roar sometimes and not allow politicians to ruin the country.”