Final update: Korat, Bangkok and Srisaket

19 09 2009

Prem, double standards and protests that “improve the situation”

In this post PPT summarizes some of the reports on protests in Thailand on the 2006 coup anniversary.

Korat: The Nation (19 September 2009: “Red shirts end protest in Korat”) reports on the red shirt rally that was meant to be at the residence of Privy Councilor President General Prem Tinsulanonda in Nakhon Ratchasima. Prem is reportedly in the town. Protesters, said in one report to number 4,000 (Monsters & Critics) apparently failed to reach the compound “as they faced with barricades and hundreds of police” and joint forces of “police and soldiers [that] set up a blockage on a road leading to Gen Prem’s residence…”. The protesters called on Prem to stay out of politics and demanded that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call an election. Many of the protesters then departed for Bangkok and the rally there.

Bangkok: Red shirt protesters were reported (The Nation, 19 September 2009: “No march to Prem’s residence”) by police to have decided not to rally at the army house Prem occupies. They said this was because he wasn’t there. However, the huge security presence was also daunting.

A separate report in The Nation (19 September 2009: “Hooligans ordered to incite unrest : Suthep”) says that Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has claimed that several groups of unidentified “hooligans” have “received orders to create unrest during the red shirted protest on Saturday in Bangkok…”. Abhisit went further claiming that these groups were going to set off bombs (see the Bangkok Post report in the next paragraph). The last time this happened, in Pattaya in April, the “hooligans” were pro-government blue shirts reportedly organized by Newin Chidchob, apparently with Suthep’s blessing. Citing “intelligence reports,” Suthep said that the groups “were ordered to create violence” during Saturday’s rally, and added that the authorities had the “groups were under close watch.”

The Bangkok Post has a telling headline (19 September 2009: “Bangkok peaceful, yellow shirts riot at the border”). More on Srisaket below. The Post reports that: “the government imposed the draconian Internal Security Act once again for the latest red shirt demonstrations and deployed more than 9,000 soldiers and police to guard key locations.” PPT has emphasized this, noting an increase from previous reports.

At teh red shirt rally, United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leader Jatuporn Promphan,  in pouring rain and flooding told a crowd estimated at more than 5,000: “We came here today to mark the third anniversary of the coup, which has caused huge damage to the country…”. He demanded that  Abhisit resign and hold elections, and added: “This will be a peaceful protest and will end by midnight if the government does not use violence…”.

Srisaket: Meanwhile, the People’s Alliance for Democracy rallied some 5,000 supporters to their ultra-nationalist rally claiming that Thailand is losing territory to Cambodia in Srisaket province at the Preah Vihear Temple. The Nation (19 September 2009: “PM worries on clash in Si Sa Ket”) reports clashes between PAD and local villagers. Abhisit is said to have “expressed concerns” and is said that “he did not want to see Thais clash among themselves.” Abhisit wanted “peace talks” with PAD (Bangkok Post, 19 September 2009: “PM orders peace talk with PAD”). This is unremarkable because the close relationship between PAD and several senior Democrat Party leaders and Abhisit himself. He wanted the PAD leadership consulted. PAD leaders Chamlong Srimuang and Suriyasai Katasila urged that Abhisit send a representative to talk with Veera Somkwamkid, a PAD key member who led the rally, and Abhisit seems to have followed their advice. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep, who is meant to be in charge of security in Bangkok (see above)  is also said to be in charge at Srisaket.

Thai TV reported that many villagers were injured in the clash with PAD. Clashes between PAD and local villager also occurred the last time PAD rallied in this area. According to Bangkok Pundit, the pro-PAD ASTV/Manager proclaimed that: “Those who love the country were … hit on the head and many injuries.”

The Bangkok Post report noted above (19 September 2009: “Bangkok peaceful, yellow shirts riot at the border”) stated that television “showed yellow-clad protesters armed with sticks beating local villagers and Thai riot police, who pushed back with shields.” It also reported that catapults and sticks were used by both sides before police separated them. It confirmed that a number of villagers were injured in the clash. According to the Post, local residents “living near the disputed border area opposed the protest by the yellow shirts protesters as they believed it could impact Thailand’s cross-border trade economy and relations with Cambodia.” The BBC has some footage.

Apparently, “PAD demonstrators broke through barricades and marched towards the 11th century temple…”. Breaking news from the Bangkok Post (19 September 2009: “Anupong: Don’t enter disputed border”) has army chief General Anupong Paochinda warning and pleading with PAD protesters, lamely saying: “The protesters can say they love the country but going into the disputed area would be dangerous and there could still be landmines…”. He warned them that they might be arrested by Cambodian authorities (not Thai authorities?). Associated Press reported that the Cambodian security forces would certainly act if the yellow shirts entered Cambodia.

Anupong asserted: “The army will act in accordance with the government’s bilateral negotiation plan. We are now working on it and we will not do anything beyond this course…”. Remarkably he is also reported to have said: “protests can take place if it can help improve the situation.”

Update 1: When PPT checked at 8:30 p.m. Bangkok time, reports were coming in that some red shirt protesters got to Prem’s Bangkok residence. They carried a 500-metre-long banner saying “we want the 1997 charter back.” The group rallied for about an hour, apparently without incident (The Nation, 19 September 2009: “Red-shirt protesters disperse from Prem’s Sisao residence”). At the main rally, a red-shirt leader, Natthawut Saikua, waited for Thaksin’s video speech at at 8:30 p.m. and, contradicting earlier statements, promised a further march on Prem’s residence. Another leader, Jatuporn, threatened to prolong the protest if police use the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) against protesters. He was apparently responding to police statements that if the protesters turn violent, they would use water cannon and the LRAD.

At 7 p.m. the police estimated a crowd of 20,000. This number is confirmed in an AFP report (Brisbane Times, 19 September 2009: “Rival protests rock Thailand on coup anniversary”).

That report also updates the situation at Srisaket. It says that “[s]tick-wielding protesters from the movement clashed repeatedly with riot police and with villagers who were trying to keep them out of the temple area…”. It adds that the provincial governor said that: “[d]ozens of people were wounded, with 20 people hospitalised including one villager who was shot in the neck…”. Apparently PAD protesters withdrew when “the army agreed to allow 30 of them to go to the Thai territory near the temple on Sunday and read out a declaration…”.

Updates 2/3 (11 p.m. & 1:45 a.m. Bkk time): During the UDD rally, red shirts “mourned for the death of a taxi driver who hung himself to oppose the Sept 2006 coup. The UDD donated 50,000 baht to his wife on stage.” This refers to Nuamthong Praiwan, who first crashed his taxi into a tank. When he’d recovered he then committed suicide as an act protesting the coup and for democracy.

Thaksin spoke by video link, claiming to be “somewhere near Thailand.” He said that things had “not improved three years after the coup,” that “the people became poorer and became less happy after the coup,” and he called on the Abhisit government to “dissolve the House and called for charter amendments for a fresh start in politics.” He is also reported to have stated that: “At present, there are injustice and less human rights and freedom the Thai society” and pointed to the conflict in Srisaket. The Nation now has more on Thaksin’s speech. He apparently also pointed to double standards, human rights and fairness: “They accuse me of interfering with independent organisations, and what about the situation these days? They accused me of interfering in the mass media and what’s going on today?” He also promised to return soon.

There was no violence, no bombs, and no incitement by third parties reported in Bangkok or Korat. Violence appears to have been limited to the PAD in Srisaket.

On PAD in Srisaket, The Nation (20 September 2009: “17 injured in clash near Preah Vihear”) reported that 17 were injured there. It reports that teenagers “armed with sticks and slingshots attacked the yellow shirts as they marched through their village to Preah Vihear.” The villagers “feared [the rally] could spark a war with Cambodia. The villagers have already suffered from the temple being closed, which has cost them income from the lack of tourists. Access to their farms has also been blocked by the military since last year.”

The report says that “thousands of PAD protesters … managed to break the police and villagers’ barricades in Si Sa Ket’s Ban Phumsarol to reach the gate of Pha Mor Ee Daeng, next to Preah Vihear temple.” PAD leaders claimed that the “villagers were misinformed about the PAD mission.” PAD wanted the Abhisit government to “evict the Cambodians…”. The Srisaket governor “Rapee Phongpuphakit had lengthy negotiations with Veera but failed to get the protesters to leave the site.”

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep, still in Bangkok, claimed to not understand the PAD’s intent: “I don’t understand what is the purpose behind their protest…”.

Update 4: The Bangkok Post (20 September 2009: “PAD protest ends in bloodshed”)reports that martial law has been declared in Srisaket, but it remains unclear if this is the situation.

The report says that the government compromised with PAD allowing 76 PAD representatives “read aloud a prepared statement today at Pha Mor E Daeng, which is close to the disputed area.” Abhisit Vejjajiva said “giving the PAD its say could help restore peace.” He also promised that Anyone who “broke the law at the gathering would be punished…”.

The Post points to the role played by “so-called PAD guards” when the demonstrators “were stopped by hundreds of villagers…”. The “PAD guards broke through the barricades, taking protesters to a forest fire control station where they were prepared to spend the night.”

Following talks with “Suranaree Task Force commander Maj-Gen Chavalit Choonhasarn held talks for two hours after which the protesters retreated to the Sisa Asoke Buddhist community, which is a branch of Santi Asoke with close affiliations to the PAD.”

Meanwhile, Santi Asoke aficionado and PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang “distanced all five PAD leaders from the Preah Vihear campaign,” saying that they were not leading the protests at the border.

In the face of the government’s lack of even-handedness in dealing with the two groups, it is likely that the red shirts have gained some political ground vis-a-vis PAD and the government.


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17 09 2011
No shame Abhisit | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] on the Preah Vihear temple and its grounds. Despite some mutual slagging off, that position held. Abhisit seemed more intent on talking peace with PAD than in dealing with a sometimes hot war on the border. He never seemed very keen to reign in […]