International Crisis Group on Thailand’s Political Chaos
Just one day before the Abhisit regime extended its repressive State of Emergency, seemingly undermining its claims toward reconciliation, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) released a laboriously balanced new report on the April and May massacre in Bangkok of Red Shirt protesters by the Thai military and police. There are plenty of the government’s unsubstantiated claims repeated in the report, and some details which are plain wrong, but ICG’s studious attempt to take account of all sides is admirable, and the conclusions are sound. Below is just one excerpt:
The government claimed that troops needed to use live bullets because there were “terrorists” among demonstrators, while human rights advocates alleged that the use of force against protesters was disproportionate to the threat they posed. Journalists and observers on the ground said that protestors generally fought with bare hands or with slingshots and homemade firecrackers. A Crisis Group researcher witnessed one incident where army soldiers fired several live rounds at a group of unarmed protesters, which included women and children, in response to a Red Shirt protester launching a non-lethal firecracker at a helicopter. In another account, a foreign journalist saw a red-shirted protestor armed with a slingshot shot by the military; others who were clearly unarmed were shot as well. The government, however, claimed armed assailants fired more than 100 grenades at army troops during the six-day confrontation. The CRES released figures showing the numbers and kinds of weapons found at Red Shirt protest sites. Some of these are thought to have been those taken from government troops and army vehicles during the chaotic night of 10 April.
At least 54 people died, including two soldiers, and some 470 people were injured. The most notorious incident occurred on the evening of 19 May at Pathumwanaram Buddhist temple, designated as a weapon-free zone. Six civilians were shot dead, including one rescue worker and two volunteer nurses. Soldiers were photographed standing on an elevated train track in front of the temple and pointing rifles downward. The government said troops were not ordered to go near the temple. Soldiers operating on the ground said they only entered the area to follow suspected arsonists but did not shoot the victims.37 Prime Minister Abhisit said the incident “should not have happened” and said the autopsies showed that bullets were unlikely to have been fired from above. (…)
The conflicting accounts of virtually every incident during this period underscore the need for a thorough and impartial fact-finding commission to determine what happened and to hold those responsible on all sides for the violence.