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.