Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why Thai army raid on Bangkok protesters failed miserably


Observing the Thai military's hapless and bloody effort to disperse protesters on Saturday in Bangkok I asked, "Did the army expect no resistance? What was the plan, the strategy?"  Bangkok Pundit  translated a possible explanation from an army source (BP's translation included the original Thai script):
Not one for quoting Seh Daeng, but he referred to the military being leaderless at a point - will include the full quote of what he said given the controversy.  Matichon reports him as saying the mistake of the Army C-in-C was to use snipers on the building at Satri Wittaya school and this caused many people to die ... because the result of using snipers to kill the people first ... caused one group of persons whose identity is unknown or the Ronin fighters to respond ... by using a M79 grenade which then hit the military tent next to Satri Wittaya school which the military used as the command centre ... and this caused a serious injury to Maj General Valit the Commander of the forces .. and many other senior military officials .. so there was no commander to issue orders ...
I recently blogged about Seh Daeng -- the pen name or alias for Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol --  here and here.

There were reports of snipers on top of buildings from some eyewitnesses.   On the above map you can see just how near the tourist-trodden Khao San tourist district is to Satri Wittaya school where the Thai military situated its base of operations and -- according to Seh Daeng -- snipers.  Ultimately, it was not the misfortune of any "M79 grenade" attack, but poor planning on the part of Thai authorities left thousands of foreign tourists in the line of fire on Saturday.  (Here is a video taken by a foreigner in the Khao San area as he was shot; this post gives you some idea of the extent to which foreign tourists were terrorized by the crackdown). 

To think that Thailand's government showed so little concern for the safety of foreign tourists, for the viability of such an important industry!

Perhaps this should come as no surprise.   The present Thai cabinet includes a foreign minister who personally participated in protests that shut-down Bangkok's Suvarnabuhmi International Airport.  Of course, that action stranded thousands of foreign tourists in November 2008, costing the Thai economy an estimated US $8 billion.

UPDATE:   A New Mandala blog post by Nick Nostitz includes photos of the Satri Wittaya school that attest to the presence of snipers on the building.

On the satellite image, you can see the proximity of the school building to democracy monument and the Khao San tourist area (top circle).  Jan, a commenter on the Australian academic blog points to further evidence that snipers were present at Satri Wittaya school.  He writes, "you can see the sniper location very clear on this video":

Jan comments:
Left Building :
- 3.00 Sniper #1 (3rd room left, under the rooftop)
- 3.03 Sniper #2 (2nd room left, rooftop)
- 3.36 Sniper #3 (1st room left, rooftop)
- 3.37 Sniper #2 fires again
Notice the sound of the impacts that coincides with the shots on the last 2.
The above video taken by blogger Tony Joh seems to confirm Seh Daeng's claim about the presence of snipers in Satri Wittaya school.  But who were the snipers?  I find it hard to imagine that the Thai military, which apparently had a tent adjacent to the school, would have allowed non-military personnel to occupy any building above their command post. Therefore, I think it not unreasonable to assume that any snipers in the school buildings would have had to have been cooperating with the Thai military.  Some key claims pertaining to Seh Daeng's account appear to be correct.

UPDATE 2:  The last 5 seconds of this exclusive France 24 video report proves that Thai soldiers were not merely firing live rounds "into the air" as the Thai government had claimed.   The France 24 correspondent's  account parallels another element of Seh Daeng's comment.
According to our team, the clash was triggered by the explosion of a grenade, the origin of which remains unknown.

“The explosion killed seven soldiers and wounded a colonel of the Thai security forces in his head”, says FRANCE 24’s Payen.

While the victims of the explosion were being taken to the nearest hospital, the army retaliated by firing into the crowd, plunging Bangkok into chaos.
Are France 24 and Seh Daeng referring to the same grenade attack?  Both reports refer to a grenade attack that resulted in things getting out of hand.   Might the "colonel" reported to have been injured in the France 24 report, have been Maj General Valit?

UPDATE 3:  Nick Nostitz, at the blog:  "I can clearly state that at the Satri Witaya School was a sniper, because i was at the receiving end of the maybe last round fired by this sniper – the fortunately only bullet I came close to that day."

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