[Marxism] Thailand: reporting from the 'Red Zones'

Stuart Munckton stuartmunckton at gmail.com
Sun Jul 11 20:05:23 MDT 2010

Fascinating article on post-crackdown Thailand, reporting from the country's
north-eat - a strong hold of Red Shirt support.


Thailand: Reporting from the ‘Red zones’
   Sunday, July 11, 2010
 By Lee Yu Kyung <http://www.greenleft.org.au/taxonomy/term/2167>

   Thai army troops confront Red Shirt protesters in Bangkok on April 10.
Despite non-stop talk of ‘reconciliation’ by Prime Minister Abhisit
Vejajiva, his regime has continued to persecute his critics. Photo: Lee Yu

On July 6, the Thai government approved the extension of an emergency decree
in 19 provinces, which includes many in the heartland of the pro-democracy
Red Shirts in the country’s north-east.

The extension came a day after the Brussels-based International Crisis Group
(ICG) recommended the government immediately lift the decree and hold fresh

But Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva, who came to power through the army’s
intervention, crushed hopes for new elections weeks ago.

There have been tireless efforts to silence critical voices before and after
the bloody crackdown on the Red Shirts in May. The International Crisis
Group said in a July 5 report that more than 2200 websites have been shut
down for alleged violations to the Computer Crime Act since the state of
emergency was imposed on April 7.

In rural provinces, authorities have intensified royalist campaigning since
the crackdown. Some village heads in the north-east (or Isan) have received
two types of forms from the interior ministry.

The first one is for the collection of signatures from the population for an
oath of loyalty to Thailand’s monarchy.

The oath reads: “This person wants to show their willingness to worship the
monarchy… and to protect the monarchy with his or her life.”

A village head in Kalasin province said: “I was told to collect 300
signatures in my village. But I’m afraid I couldn’t because some of the 500
villagers actually reside in other areas.”

The second form is for “joining the ‘monarchy protection group’”. It
instructs village heads to “organise” 20 people to “implement” the royalist
oath. The idea appears to be to organise a type of royalist village militia.

Villagers, many of whom are Red Shirt supporters, are disturbed by the
forms. To justify its murderous crackdown, in which more than 90 people were
killed between March and May, the government accused the Red Shirts of being
against the monarchy.

In fact, the Red Shirt movement did not oppose the monarchy, but simply
demanded the unelected government resign and allow new elections.

A 55 year-old villager, Chuan (name changed), told me: “We always respect
our monarchy. I don’t know why we should sign this paper.”

Despite non-stop talk of “reconciliation” by Abhisit, his regime has
continued to persecute his critics. Besides detaining central Red Shirt
leaders and hundreds of protesters, arrest warrants have been issued for 819
activists, * Matichon* newspaper said on June 10.

Of these, 787 were for people from the provinces.

Forty-two year-old Luen Sisupho, from Sakon Nakorn, is one of those on the
run. He received a summons from police ordering him to turn himself in by
May 25, after which an arrest warrant was to be issued.

Luen is a local activist from the Assembly of the Poor. He has never voted
for a party associated with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is
supported by the Red Shirts.

Luen had distanced himself from the Red Shirt movement until March. “I could
no longer disagree with what Red Shirts were demanding”, he said.
“Dissolution of the parliament and new elections are very democratic
demands, aren’t they?

“The government has lost the hearts and minds of people, whereas the Red
Shirts have won more. There will be more people who join the next protests,
I bet.”

There are signs the Red Shirt movement has been swelled by the government’s

One example is twenty-two year-old Akkaradej Khankaew from Kalasin province,
who was one of six protesters killed in the Pathuwanaram temple in May. His
aunt, Intaracham Inphum, said he had started watching the pro-Red Shirt
P-Channel last year after government repression.

“My nephew became interested in what was going on in the country”, said a
grieving Intaracham in her nephew’s room, which features a picture of the
Thai king and queen.

“We joined the Bangkok protest together this year. I came home in early
April, but my nephew stayed and finally got killed.”

Historically, Isan has been a center of rebellion. It was here the Communist
Party of Thailand guerrilla movement was launched in 1965 and was active
until the ’80s.

The communist insurgency, which occurred in various parts of the country, is
now history. But the “Red Zones” from the communists struggle appear to have
be revived by the Red Shirts movement.

Fifty-eight year-old Khitisak Posawant was once a communist and is now a Red
Shirt in Pakchong village in Mukdahan province.

He is proud to have been part of the Bangkok protests for democracy this
year. Out of about 200 households of his village, nearly half joined the
Bangkok protests.

“My generation is well aware about brutality of Thai armed forces, because
of the experience of communist struggle in the region.”

Fifty-seven year-old Yon Ngonsuk, another Red Shirt supporter from the same
village, wasn’t shy about talking about his past role in the anti-communist

Yon served in the Volunteer Defense Corps, the biggest paramilitary forces
during the anti-communist campaign.

He said soldiers were willing to shoot people then, as they did in the May
19 bloody crackdown.

“We didn’t know who was a communist or not”, Yon said. “But in an operation,
we had to think everyone was a communists.

“It’s similar to the way Abhisit accused Red Shirts of being terrorists
without clarification.”

Yon said he didn’t choose to join the paramilitaries. At 18, he was arrested
by armed forces while helping communist guerrillas and forced to enter
military training.

The slogan Yon heard from his captors almost four decades ago was the same
as that broadcast by army speakers to the Red Shirt camp in Bangkok during
the crackdown — that all Thais should love each other and not fight.

“Initially, they didn’t say communists were bad. Instead they said we were
all Thai.”

Such patriotic love disappeared, however, once soldiers got orders to shoot.
Yon was instructed to shoot-to-kill anyone he came across on sight.

He was discharged from the unit in the early ’90s and returned to normal

“Even though I was with the military for 20 years, I really hate the army
seeing what they’ve done against protesters who ask for democracy.

“I want to fight. Whenever there’s repression, we want to fight more.”

Isan, the poorest region in Thailand, has produced many conscripts, whose
education was often terminated before grade nine. Such a fault line raises
the possibility of a family tragedy — with conscript soldiers set against
poor protesters from the same region.

Fifty-eight year-old Pravit (name changed) is a Red Shirt supporter from
Kalasin. He spent uneasy days and nights while taking part in the
months-long protests in Bangkok.

It was not his fear of repression that disturbed him, but the chance of a
violent confrontation with his youngest son, 22-year-old Thongchai.

His son, like many young men in Thailand’s impoverished north, has been on
military service as a conscript since November. Pravit was constantly
contacting his son, whose normal duty was securing Suvarnaphumi airport, to
find out if his unit would be dispatched anywhere near the protest site.

In the end, Pravit returned home from Bangkok on April 7, before the bloody

He had planned to return to Bangkok, but didn’t dare to after deadly clashes
on April 10, in which his son took part.

Sitting next to his father, Thongchai, on leave from service, said: “It was
just terrible to face off with people who might be my friends, neighbours or
relatives. We were told to disperse protesters, but I never expected such
deadly consequence.”

He said he rarely discussed the events of the bloody day with his father.

“I will join Red Shirt protests if there is another round after I discharge
from military service. My friend became a Red Shirt guard after leaving the

Isan, the revived Red Zone, is expected to be a centre for what happens
next. Red Shirts feel a mix of extreme anger, confusion, hope and despair
while discussing the next steps.

Wearing red shirts at the Sunday markets is one idea, as is refusing to sell
anything to soldiers.

Some people, such as 51-year-old teacher Panee Tamma from Khon Ken province,
await elections — but, at the same time, doubt the prospects of a vote being
free and fair.

Some observers cautiously predict an armed insurgency. The ICG has warned
civil war could break out if a political resolution is not found.

Dr Paul Chambers, a long-time observer of Thai politics and military affairs
from the Politics Institute of Heidelberg University, said: “There could be
a low-intensity undeclared civil war. This could happen as Red Shirts in the
countryside rise up, following the crackdown on the Red Shirts at

“Thaksin might even create a government in exile.”

One Red Shirts supporter in Khon Ken province, who doesn’t wish to be named,
said: “There are many people here who would join an underground movement or
even armed insurgency if somebody would initiate it.”

Another supporter in Mukdahan pondered the question of armed insurgency. She
said. “I’m not sure if it could be similar to the communist insurgency era.
But yes, I could provide food and shelter for them.”

No matter what type of movement appears, Red Shirts in rural provinces look
forward to the next moves in continuing their struggle for democracy.

“Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original
virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through
disobedience and through rebellion.” — Oscar Wilde, Soul of Man Under

“The free market is perfectly natural... do you think I am some kind of
dummy?” — Jarvis Cocker

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