Redshirts: To Thai Middle Class They’re Terrorists

BANGKOK — Nearly three days after the event, the country is still stunned by the military assault on the Redshirt encampment in the tourist center of this city.

Captured Redshirt leaders and militants are treated like POWs and the lower class Redshirt mass-base like an occupied country. No doubt about it, a state of civil war exists in this country, and civil wars are never pretty.

The last few weeks have hardened the Bangkok middle class in their view that the Redshirts are ‘terrorists’ in the pocket of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, at the same time convincing the lower classes that their electoral majority counts for nothing.

Pro-Thaksin versus anti-Thaksin: this discourse actually veils what is–to borrow Mao’s words–a class war with Thai characteristics.

No doubt there will be stories told about the eight weeks of the ‘Bangkok Commune.’ As in all epic tragedies, truth will be entangled with myth. But of one thing there will be no doubt; that Prime Minister Abhisit’s decision to order the Thai military against civilian protesters can never be justified.

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    Mr. Bello writes: “…of one thing there will be no doubt; that Prime Minister Abhisit’s decision to order the Thai military against civilian protesters can never be justified.”

    During the 2010 unrest in Bangkok, Human Rights Watch documented that Thaksin’s red shirt followers had a heavily armed military wing that acted as provocateurs and attacked military personnel and civilians to escalate the conflict. From pages 48-51 of the report (which is available at http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/thailand0511webwcover_0.pdf):

    “The composition, command structure, and relationship of the Red Shirt Guards to the UDD leadership remain unclear. But Human Rights Watch’s research, including extensive interviews with UDD leaders and protesters, found that UDD claims to be a peaceful mass mobilization
    were undermined by the presence of highly skilled and deadly armed groups, including the “Black Shirts,” who were responsible for a number of attacks against soldiers and civilians, but about whom crucial questions of their command and role remain unanswered. ”

    “The UDD’s public deployment of hundreds of security guards dressed in uniforms resembling those of the paramilitary Thahan Phran implied a militaristic element to the protest movement. Indeed, many assumed that Red Shirt security guards were behind the armed violence against government forces. However, Human Rights Watch’s investigations found that the attacks did not originate with Red Shirt Guards, but with a secretive armed element within the UDD whom protesters and media called the “Black Shirts” or “Men in Black”—though not all were dressed in black. Members of these armed groups were captured on photographs and film armed with various military weapons, including AK-47 and M16 assault rifles, as well as M79 grenade launchers, during their clashes with government security forces.”

    A journalist who embedded with the black shirts reported to Human Rights Watch: “I met about 17 or 18 of them, but they said they were part of a group of 30. They had more people helping them, helpers and their own medics. They were all ex-military, and some of them were still on active duty. Some of them were paratroopers, and at least one was from the Navy. They had AR-15s, TAR-21s, M16s, AK-47s [military assault rifles], but I didn’t see them with M79s [grenade launchers]. They told me that their job was to protect the Red Shirt protesters, but their real job was to terrorize the soldiers.”