Thursday, April 22, 2010

Unrest in Thailand

Red Shirts building a fort in Bangkok, Thailand, originally uploaded by newleypurnell

Tuesday I got word from a friend in Bangkok, Thailand, that tensions were escalating between the pro-government yellow shirts or Peoples' Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the followers of Thaksin Shinawatra known as the red shirts or United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD). I spoke to him that evening to get some background and links on the situation. At present, the red shirts have built a "fort" near Central World Plaza and units from the Thai army loyal to the government are encamped two blocks south on Silom Rd. The red shirt "fort" is several meters high and appears to have been assembled from old tires and bamboo. That seems unwise, since some red shirts are carrying Molotov cocktails.

On April 10th, the situation in Thailand took a turn for the worse when the Thai army tried to clear the red shirts from one of their make-shift camps in Bangkok. There are allegations that snipers on rooftops opened fire on the protesters. Over twenty people were killed, including several Thai soldiers, and over 800 people were wounded. WARNING: The following video is EXTREMELY graphic! An unarmed, flag-waving red shirt is shot and killed on April 10th.

While a calm has returned to the city, so to have red shirt reinforcements. The red shirts are predominantly farmers and lower class workers while the yellow shirts are predominantly business owners and middle class workers. The BBC has an overview of both sides and the issues. After the April 10th clashes, people sympathetic to the red shirts began joining their camps often bringing materials that could be used to fortify those camps. The violence also led one blogger to observe that: "[t]he Thai government appears to have mindlessly shot its way in a corner."

However, the situation is more complicated than that. As the clashes began on April 10th, one top military commander was targeted and killed by assassins and two others were maimed. These leaders were primed for promotion later this year leading the Asia Times to speculate:
The sophisticated nature of the targeted attacks, including the use of laser-guided spot and shoot teams, and the apparent leak of confidential information concerning troops' plans and formations, has suggested to analysts possible military involvement in the assaults. Officials have claimed that "terrorists" rather than rogue soldiers orchestrated the violence. But the uncertainty has raised critical new questions about army unity at a pivotal juncture in the country's violently escalating five-year-old political conflict. 
Towards the end of the week there was a call for martial law to be imposed. However, the Siam Daily News reported over the weekend:
The Center for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) has declined a necessity for the government to declare martial law in order to control the current situation.
CRES and Army Spokesperson, Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, said the current enforcement of the state of emergency is adequate to maintain peace and order within the kingdom; however, security officers need to enforce the law against those violators more strictly and in a straightforward manner.
Nonetheless, the United States, Australia, and other nations have issued travel alerts for Thailand as a result of the state of emergency there. The Thai army's decision to switch from rubber bullets to lethal ammunition has probably also contributed to those travel alerts.

The violence is not limited to Bangkok. A car bomb exploded injuring at least ten people in Thailand's southern province, Pattani. Thai Photo Blogs reports that a policeman was killed in a separate attack: "A grenade followed by a car bombing killed a policeman and wounded 60 people in Thailand's restive Muslim south on Wednesday, the latest attacks in a bloody six-year conflict."

Perhaps unrelated... six Afghanis posing as Nepalese were apprehended in Kolkata, India. The Times of India reports:
The six — Karim Ali, Kasim Ali, Fayez Ali, Golam Reza, Muhammad Yasin, Mohammed Ismail — were booked on a Kingfisher flight to Bangkok. When they reached the airport on Tuesday morning, the immigration official on duty suspected that the passports were forged. 

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