BANGKOK – “We will be back”, said a quietly-defiant sounding Chompoo Nutch, sitting halfway down a rickety red bus
bound for Bangkok’s main train station, from where she and some of the last remaining redshirt protestors in Bangkok will make their way home.
Dozens of buses filled up with evacuees from the main Rajaprasong rally site in central Bangkok, and by 2pm today twenty awaited clearance to move off. Some are bound for towns and cities to the north and east of Bangkok.
Whether or not the redshirts wull be back in Bangkok soon remains to be seen. With core leaders mostly in police custody right now, where the movement goes from here is open to question. When its leadership announced to the crowd yesterday that they were giving themselves up, saying that the rally was over, some protestors reacted angrily. Soon after, the shopping malls under which the protestors made the encampment in recent weeks were ablaze. Hardcore militants continued to fight the advancing Thai soldiers a kilometer away from the main rally stage. Grenades started to land on Ratchadamri Road and in Lumpini Park minutes after the redshirt leaders announced that the rally was over. A group of around 40 reporters, including this correspondent, were pinned down as the Thai army fired back, close to Sarasin Junction. A Canadian freelance reporter was seriously injured by shrapnel during the exchange of fire.
The redshirt movement appears divided, and the prospect of a negotiated settlement with the Government has caused ructions within the leadership for at least two weeks now. Deceased commando ‘Seh Daeng’ lambasted Veera Musikapong for what he viewed as compromising with the Government over the ‘roadmap’ proposed by PM Abhisit Vejajjiva. Some redshirt leaders wanted to go with this plan, seeing it as a victory for their then-6 week long protest. Others saw it as insufficient and apparently did not trust the Government’s bona fides.
The Government today said it will move ahead with the roadmap in any case. Whether or not the redshirts can coalesce around this, and divert energies into an election campaign remains to be seen. Divisions could take some time to heal. Chompoo Nutch said she understood why the leaders made their emotional stand-down yesterday. “They did not weant us to get hurt”, she claimed. “The army would have killed us all if they did not surrender”.In the hours after the rally ended, looting, burning and rioting took place in a number of locations across Bangkok, even after most of the city fell deathly quiet to meet a 8pm Government curfew. A radicalised minority of violence-inclined redshirts could stymie any attempt by redshirts to focus solely on an election, alongside the affiliated Peua Thai party.
Given that the current Government under the Democrat Party and PM Abhisit Vejajjiva came to power after courts dissolved the predecessor party to Peua Thai, and this after prior Yellowshirt protests were let go unpunished, redshirts can feel justifiably distrustful of conventional politics in Thailand, even if the PM commits to a November 14 election this year. Redshirts will wonder if the result will be respected by Yellowshirts and their allies in the military, bureaucracy and business elites, if Peau Thai wins, which is the expected outcome.
An election campaign anytime soon is likely to be bitter and potentially-violent, as a Rubicon has been crossed by the unprecedented scenes of street fighting in Bangkok in recent weeks. The army has been criticised for reckless combat behaviousr, including firing on unarmed protestors. Redshirts stand accused of lying about their adherence to non-violent methods, after attacks on army positions by a minority of militants. Journalists have been on the wrong end of a remarkably high hit rate,with two killed and the numbers of injuries running into double figures. Both sides are guilty of readily-dismissing apparent wrongdpings on their own side as attributable to a mysterious ‘third hand’.
This does not augur well for the future of Thailand. Pat, a Thai businesswoman recently returned form living in the US, was out on the streets today with her mother and aunt, handing out water to redshirts lining up to show their ID to police, before they boarded their bus home from Bangkok’s National Stadium. “I just came here to help”, the thirty-year old said. “I am not yellow or red, but I feel sad for what is happening to my country”, she added, handing a bottle of water to one an official beckoning and calling through a loudspeaker for individual redshirts to proceed to their designated bus.
As we spoke, reports came in of more fighting at Din Daeng, on a road leading in to the Rajaprasong area. Some of souhteast Asia’s biggest and glossiest shopping centers are gutted: black smouldering heaps with militants still holed up inside and battling troops. This correspondent was not permitted to enter the Rajaprasong area earlier today, with soldiers saying that the fighters inside were targetting journalists. “Come back when this is finished”, was the translation I received of what one of the soldiers was saying to me. However, Thailand’s 4 year political face-off might not be ‘finished’ for some time yet.Show