Daily Archives: March 6, 2012

This and that from re Thai r ment. May 23, 2010

Of those of you who spend the time reading these posts, some of you have expressed little interest in the machinations of Thai politics other than concern for my health (for which I thank you). Others have asked some searching questions about the situation.

Since things have quieted down here quite a bit on the military front, this will probably be my last post on the subject and I will happily get back to describing my ongoing struggles with short pants and Thai immigration.

As you know from my prior post, the non-combatant Red Shirts surrendered to the military sweep, its leaders jailed (perhaps to be soon disappeared) and the others sent back home to the provinces to make out best as they can. The Red Shirt fighters mostly melted into the background as the final assault was launched, inflicting what damage on the military and property that they could as they retreated. I expect, as is often the case in these situations, they will become, first guerilla groups, then terrorists and finally undistinguishable from any of the criminal bands that have always haunted Thai Society.

The hard-line military is firmly in control of the government, although from a less public position then in the past. Rolling curfew’s and roadblocks are the order of the day, while government spokespersons call for order. Calls for national reconciliation come not from the government so much as from the press, opposition parties not associated with the Red Shirts or from the Red Shirts themselves. To put this in perspective, one of the pro-government articles in the Bangkok Post, the leading english language daily in Thailand, explained that although Thaksin, the deposed prime minister, had done much of lasting good for those who had previously had been ignored by the Thai political establishment, the gradual takeover of the all the elements of Thai society for the benefit of his own financial interests and that of his family, friends and political supporters reached an unacceptable extent when it threatened the independence of the military and the monarchy itself.

Recently several people have told me that they heard rumors that the government had retained Cambodian mercenaries to lead the assault on the Red Shirts because the Thai army troops resisted killing fellow Thais. I suspect this to be Red Shirt propaganda in an effort to appeal to the ordinary Thai solider while throwing suspicion on the government and the general staff. What I believe actually happened is that he elite troops who spearheaded the attack who are stationed in the far eastern portion of Thailand adjacent to Cambodia, contain a number of Cambodian speakers and the rumor began when some were overheard speaking in their native tongue.

Although many are calling the rout of the Red Shirts a defeat for Thaksin, he still retains influence and some control over the opposition to the military and the government. He will remain a rallying point for unhappiness with the current political ascendency in the country.

[A bit of history, the original Thaksin was a Thai general who rallied the troops after their defeat by the Burmese and the destruction of the Thai capital of Ayutthaya and the unprepared and inept monarchy. He eventually defeated the Burmese, drove them back out of Siam and established a new capital in Thonburi, a suburb of modern Bangkok. Over time, he became gradually more and more arrogant, paranoid and insane until he was usurped by one of his generals who became the first king of the current monarchial dynasty.

It should be noted that during the period of the great conflicts between the Thais and the Burmese, it was often the women and not the men whose martial exploits saved the country. There are statues honoring these women throughout Thailand. In Korat a large city in the east of Thailand by the main gate to the old walled city a statue of en elderly woman stares menacingly out from the ramparts. It honors a woman, the wife of the lord of Korat whose husband was off fighting the wrong enemy when the city was attacked. She assumed command of the defenders of the city and defeated the Burmese and their allies in several attempts to conquer the city. After the Burmese were dispatched her husband and his army returned.

In the center of the Island of Phuket stands a statue stands honoring two sisters who after the Burmese had invaded the island and driven off the male defenders, rallied the women, children and elderly and drove the Burmese back into the sea.

Even the dynasty that was destroyed by the Burmese along with its capitol city, had its warrior queen. She led the royal troops in several battles against the invading Burmese defeating them every time until at last she was overrun in the final battle. She may have even had achieved victory there had she not died in a futile attempt to singlehandedly save her monkish and definitely unwarlike husband from a Burmese assault. And just so you will not mistakenly believe that I have been in touch with my feminine side, I leave you with this little misogynist note: remember, even in the land of smiles, a Thai woman can be a real bitch if you try to mess with her property… or if you are Burmese…or….]

Categories: April 2010 through June 2010 | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

This and That from re Thai r ment. May 20, 2010

News from the frontlines:

Two days ago I travelled by bus to Bangkok to try to get some documents notarized and perhaps get a peek at the contending forces in the protest. When I arrived, I discovered that the US Consulate was closed and the Bangkok mass transit system shut down. So, that night I stayed at the house of a friend in one of the suburbs of the city. The next morning I returned to PSOMDROH. As the bus left the Mo Chit bus terminal and travelled along the elevated highways leaving the city I could she the black smoke of the burning tire fires spreading over the central portion of the city and smell its acrid stench.

(For purposes of comparison, everyone should understand that the protest here in Bangkok occupies a smaller area than the Rodney King riots in LA; that the protestors are far less heavily armed than the LA rioters; and, that the property damage is substantially less here.)

In my younger days, I could not have resisted the urge to get a close up look at things, but at my age, comfort is more compelling than sightseeing. I, however, did not know that day was to be the day of the great push of the military against the protesters. Had I known, I am sure curiosity would have gotten the better of my current need for comfort.

I used to attend all the riots and confrontations I could get to. Like the general in “Apocalypse Now” who loved “the smell of Napalm in the morning,” I guess I must love the smell of fear when the protestors first catch sight of police advancing on them. While in Italy during the 1968 turmoil, I tried to attend every march and protest I could. It did not matter whether the protestors were communists, fascists or whatever (In Italy at that time is was difficult to tell who was who). Once I marched with the Communists. I could tell they were Communists because they began their march in front of the Lateran Palace in Rome were the Communists usually begin their marches. They also carried a lot of big red flags. Anyway I took my son Jason with me to that march, wanting to get him an early education of protest and its futility. I ended shielding him with my body from a hail of rocks thrown at the protesters and limped home long before we arrived at the protestors destination.

Another time, also in Rome, I attended a protest by the Fascists against something they believed the government was doing wrong (At this time, 1968, all protests had something to do with the Viet Nam war). The Fascists were much better dressed than the Communists. They were all young men (the commies had a few women and old people along) with slicked back hair in the style of the time, designer pants and fashionable shirts. They had gathered in Piazza Venezia, fittingly the location of the balcony from which Mussolini would harangue the crowds.

The police in jeeps formed a round-about whereby they drove around the plaza in ever-widening circles forcing the protestors from the plaza and on to the sidewalks. One of the protest leaders, a tall burley man very expensively dressed, refused to move from the street. Instead he held his ground and shouted whatever it is that Fascists would shout at the police. One of the jeeps suddenly peeled off from the round about and headed directly at him. As he ran, the jeep followed him across the sidewalk and up some steps where it caught him, ran over him, backed up over him again and returned to the anonymity of the round-about leaving him bloody and broken not five feet from where I was standing. Later that same evening, I had the great pleasure of saving myself from a police beating by shouting “Don’t hit me I’m a Canadian”.

I tell you all this in compensation for the fact that I avoided the action yesterday and returned home to my apartment so I have nothing exciting to report.

Today, the country is pretty much shut down, the banks are closed and what is more interesting all the atm machines are shut down, probably to try to mitigate any run on the baht. Also this morning they shut down the internet so I do not know when I will be able to post this. I assume the shut down of the internet was intended to make it more difficult for “Thaksin the omnipresent” to contact his followers. The Thai TV channels all show the same pictures of waving Thai flags and martial music.

It appears that the hard-line military is in firm control of the government. “Abisit the clueless,” the current prime minister is back into hiding and will be brought out by the military at an appropriate time. I would expect we would see several of the protest leaders who were taken into custody yesterday, “disappear”.

Meanwhile here in POSOMROH it remains as though everything happened in another country.

More whenever….

Categories: April 2010 through June 2010 | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

This and that from re Thai r ment. May 17, 2010

More from the front…

I have to go to Bangkok soon to get some documents notarized. I will go either today or Saturday. Since the US Consulate is right in the middle of the major conflict, I should be able to get a first hand look at the actual fighting. As I have said before there is no real danger to the non-combatant unless you go looking for it.

As for now, it appears that shortly after my remarks here regarding the role of the general staff on the conduct of the opposition to the protest movement, the press (mostly the BBC and CNN) independently have picked up on that idea and have filed stories exploring the internal workings of the upper levels of the Thai military and its influence on the government’s response.

What I have gleaned from reading these reports is the following:

The general staff. The general staff is divided between the so-called Hardliners and Soft-liners. The Soft-liners are represented by the current military Chief of Staff. He, interestingly, retires in October, two months prior to the proposed new elections suggested by the government under their peace plan. He is more or less opposed by the general who is slated to replace him once he retires. This Hardliner is also commander of the elite troops including the snipers. There are reports that many of the other divisions of the military are wary of these elite troops and resent them. These ordinary troops contain most of the “watermelons” since they are composed primarily of recruits from the rural provinces and urban poor. It has been reported that some of these troops have been reluctant to take up arms against the protesters and have actually provided intelligence and resources to them.

The most recent action in the conflict has followed pretty much the strategy I outlined a few days ago. The snipers (loyalist troops) have eliminated the Red Commander threat to the hardliners and are spreading terror among the protestors by firing at anyone moving within the protest zone. (The protest zone however is large enough for the snipers to actually reach the rebel encampment located in the center of the zone.) The elite troops are poised to sweep away the protestors once their number fall to a level where the elite troops could crush them with little opposition. This final push was supposed to occur on Saturday or Sunday evening but was cancelled on the orders of the Chief of Staff, ostensibly to allow time for additional negotiations to resolve the conflict to occur and to minimize bloodshed.

The demonstrators strategy has been for the young men (the “troops”) to disappear from the encampment and engage in guerilla actions against the government in other parts of the city leaving behind in the encampment the committed women, children, monks and other non-combatants. According to published reports the numbers within the rebel encampment have dwindled from 5000 before this current round of violence to about 3000 now. The missing 2000, I believe, are those troops melting into the urban background. In short, the protestors are at least as many now as before.

During this hiatus there have been increased calls for a negotiated resolution of the conflict most often under the auspices of a so-called independent third-party, like the UN, ASEAN or the King. I do not see either the government or the hardliners agreeing to a non-Thai mediator. That leaves the King who so far has been neutral.

On this latter point, because the King is in his late 80’s the question of succession complicates his role. It has been reported that the Crown Prince, who is not very well liked in the country for a number of reasons, is a friend and admirer of the deposed prime minister Thaksin.

More tomorrow…….

Categories: April 2010 through June 2010 | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

This and that from re Thai r ment. May 16, 2010

News from the front:

In 1964 during the great Harlem riots in New York City, I was a clerk in the Legal Aid office located at the very heart of riot, on the corner of 125th St. and Lennox Ave. I would spend most of the day standing unmolested outside on the corner below the office, observing the ebb and flow of the battle. I was unmolested because as a white man the police and national guard troops could clearly see I was not one of the insurgents. On the other hand as a white man standing under the legal aid office sign the insurgents knew that I would be one of those working at Riker’s Island to free them from the abandoned football stadium where they would be thrown if and when they were caught up in one of the police and guard sweeps of the areas.

More or less across the street from me, in the same hotel used a few years ago by Fidel Castro and his compatriots to roast chickens on the floor of the hallways during their attendance at a meeting of the UN, there was a reporter holed up in his room writing about the riots. He won a Pulitzer for his reporting. Years later it turned out that he was so frightened for his safety that he would not even look out the window and just made everything up. I got to know him in San Francisco during the height of his fame (he was there to report on the counter-culture) and before his fall from grace. He was an arrogant asshole.

I tell this story because here I sit safely in a condo in Paradise by the Sea, One Mile Down the Road from the Outskirts of Hell (PSOMDROH) about 100 miles from the action, receiving the same media feeds as everyone else, trying to write a description of events. Nevertheless:

Now that they appear to have disposed of the military leader of the Red Shirts, Seh Daeng (I found out it means something like Red Leader) the military’s general staff appears to have adopted a two-pronged strategy . The first is to terrorize the protesters and keep them off the streets by suppression fire from snipers stationed on the roofs of the high-rises surrounding the area barricaded by the protesters. Most of the injuries of the last day or so are the results of sniper fire. The second is to keep additional protestors from the North and Northwest of Thailand from moving down to Bangkok and reenforcing those already there. The removal of Seh Daeng eliminates the threat to the general staff should the contretemps result in a new election with the likely victory of the Red Shirts. The Sniper and interdiction strategy deals to some extent with the issue of the loyalty of the troops. The snipers can be chosen for their loyalty to the military as well as their skill with a rifle. The interdiction and terror works to reduce the numbers of protestors to a size that can be handled by the more reliable divisions of the military.

This may or may not work, at least in so far as a military end to the conflict. If in fact the protestors are reenforced and hold for another few weeks, then the pressure from the Chinese-Thai business community will force the government to concede and call for new elections ahead of schedule.

The government itself is not in the driver’s seat despite the appearance of the prime minister on television calling for even greater pressure on the rebels. It really depends on whether the general staff believes it is in their interest to move quickly and crush the uprising. Their interest is to assure their continued independence and security for the current members of the general staff. Since, absent a coup, an election will occur sooner or later and the Red Shirts stand a better that even chance of wining, they must have ether a detant with the Red Shirts or assurance that they are so utterly crushed that they could not return to power in the foreseeable future. I have heard that the behind the scene negotiations between the government and the rebels that has been ongoing continues, each side foot-dragging until it is clearer what the military intends to do. The general staff is in a position of power in negotiating with both sides. I would be surprised if their choice would be the military crushing of the Red Shirts without confidence that the police will, at the request of the government, eradicate the Red Shirt leadership. Since the police, like the military, is a law onto its own, and generally opposes the military’s political pretensions, I find it hard to conceive a circumstance that would give the general staff adequate comfort. Again barring extreme stupidity I see a military general staff negotiated solution at this time, probably within the next week or so.

The King officially remains neutral and calls for negotiations to bring peace. He probably leans toward the general staff as the interest group most likely to leave the monarchy unmolested.

The Chinese-Thai business class while clearly supporting a quick resolution of the conflict and generally supportive of the government over which they have great influence, are concerned that any response that produces significant bloodshed could cause the conflict to continue indefinitely absent a military coup which they definitely do not want. This group is primarily commercial and not industrial oriented and therefore depend upon Thailand’s good international reputation.

Thaksin, the populist ex-prime-minister whose ouster and subsequent loss of much of his fortune in a political contest waged in the courts who has bankrolled the protest movement appears to have been overtaken by events and escalating costs. He is reputed to be behind the hard-line faction within the protestors opposing any settlement not including the return of his fortune.

And what about the people you might ask? After all wasn’t this all about a conflict supposed to be between the rural poor and the urban middle class? What about their role? What about their interests?

You have got to be kidding….

Categories: April 2010 through June 2010 | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This and that from re Thai r ment. May 15, 2010

Of all my posts over the past four months, the one about my relationship with short pants has received the most response. I have no comment.

Some of you have expressed concern about and interest in the latest flare-up of violence in the long simmering stand-off between the Yellow Shirts, supporters of the existing elected government and the Red Shirts, the opposition. The following is the best I can figure out from the information I have been able to put together here.

But first, I should let you all know that the violence, for the most part, is restricted to the Thai capital city Bangkok. Here in Paradise by the Sea One Mile Down the Road from the Outskirts of Hell (PSOMDROH), while I am sure protection is still in use, there is no evidence of military personnel anywhere (except for the soldier returning home that sat next to me on the bus to Rayong). In fact, the only color shirts that I see on the streets here are the multi-colored flowered shirts of the typical beach goer. It appears that the beach resorts of the country are off-limits to military of any kind.

Now back to the action. A few weeks ago, I wrote in response to a similar concern that I expected the government would concede and offer new elections somewhat before the date of the elections currently scheduled and that, BARRING ACTIONS OF EXTREME STUPIDITY on either side, after a brief period of negotiations over issues like amnesty, the confrontation would be resolved. As I predicted, last week the government offered to dissolve parliament and hold new elections in November. The opposition responded positively but with the expected counter-offer regarding amnesty for its leaders and the dissolution of parliament prior to their disbanding of the protest. All well and good.

Among the Red Shirt leaders there was a renegade army general nick-named “Seh Daeng”. I do not know what that nick-name means but he appears to strike terror into the hearts of the government and the more or less loyal general staff. He is reputed to have either organized, led at one time, heard about or imagined (it was never clear which) a feared para-military group called “Red Ronin” after the Japanese legendary ninja warriors. In fact, for the most part he strutted alone within and just outside the barriers giving interviews to the press hinting of secret defense strategies should the government be so fool-hardy as to attack the lightly armed protestors with their overwhelming military force. I thought he was a bit nuts, but he obviously was taken very seriously by the government and the Army and so the day before yesterday he was gunned down by a sniper during one of his daily press interviews and the current round of violence broke out. The injuries and deaths usually occurred when a group of soldiers came upon an isolated protester or two, or when a group of protesters came upon one or a few soldiers in the wrong place at the wrong time and set upon them.

Now because those who have been to Thailand understand that nothing in Thailand is what it appears to be, and because both the government and the military deny responsibility for the attack on Seh Daeng, I will venture my guess as to what actually happened.

The Thai general staff is faced with uncertainty over the loyalty of its troops, most of whom are from the countryside and sympathize with the Red Shirts. Also, with a government led by the Thai version of George Bush without Dick Cheney, that is he looks pretty good on TV but lacks…subtlety, they feared that in any election the Red Shirts would win again. The military in Thailand, although a law onto itself and not subject to King or government, saw that a victory by the Red Shirts and the Red Shirt leanings of the troops could sweep into power the feared Seh Daeng as leader of the military. The loyalist general staff reasoned that in that case hey could find themselves terminated one way or another. So they decided to permanently remove Seh Daeng, and the clueless prime minister went along with it, persuaded by his generals that removal of Seh Daeng was a necessary first step to clearing the area of the rebels.

Now you may wonder why it was so imperative to clear the area of the Red Shirts encampment now given the fact that they have occupied that area for two months now. As best as I can figure out, the two large Chinese-Thai families that own most of the land occupied by the protestors are fed up and have threatened to support the protest demands that the government step down and new elections held. The clueless government’s response to the threats was to make the, what now appears to be a phony, peace offer, agree to the clearance program and offer to reimburse the two families for the loss of profits hey have suffered during the siege. Now mind you the individuals and families on either side also injured by the situation will get nothing. Ha, you may say, at least the workers in the establishments owned by two families would receive some compensation from the governmental hand out of their tax money. But no, in political cynicism worthy of Carl Rove the money is only to be used to compensate the families for lost profits. Oops, there I go again, I promised in a previous email that I would not do this, that I would be “fair and balanced”…, God its hard to stop once you get started. I apologize. Anyway, I believe the argument was that the laid off workers were too lazy to find other work so they do not deserve a share of the tax money to which they also contributed, or maybe they were illegal Burmese… Dammit, I can’t help myself. Let me stop here before I do it again.

More tomorrow……

Categories: April 2010 through June 2010 | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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