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A Week in Review: April 30 - May 6, 2011

There was a brief outbreak of truth last week...

The first casualty of war is truth – the dirtier the war, the dirtier the lies. And just like mud wrestling, Thai politics is a very dirty fight. But amid all the deceit, a modicum of truth escaped last week. What was it?  

The fighting may have temporarily subsided, but Thailand and Cambodia are still very much trying to gain points by laying all the blame on each other. Although both sides are guilty of violating human rights, neither side is prepared to accept responsibility for their actions.

While the fight for Preah Vihear temple is just a smokescreen to hide the real business of stirring up nationalistic pride ahead of an election, the leaders of both sides are clearly prepared to sacrifice innocent lives to achieve their goals.

The fighting may have temporarily subsided, but the Thai government coalition and the Phuea Thai / red shirts coalition are still very much trying to gain points by laying all the blame on each other. Although both sides are guilty of violating human rights, neither side is prepared to accept responsibility for their actions.

While the fight for democracy is just a smokescreen to hide the real business of stirring up hatred against the other side ahead of an election, the leaders of both sides are clearly prepared to sacrifice innocent lives to achieve their goals.

But through all the deceit and lies, a modicum of truth escaped last week.

A report released by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) offered the first quasi-official neutral view of last year’s red shirt riots. The 139-page report entitled "Descent into Chaos: Thailand's 2010 Red-Shirt Protests and the Government Crackdown" was based on 94 interviews with victims, witnesses, protesters, academics, journalists, lawyers, human-rights defenders, MPs, government officials, security personnel, police and those who were directly involved in the violence from both sides.

The report supports the view held by Naked Farang that both sides were guilty of human rights abuses – a fact that each side has thus far blamed entirely on the other.

The report paints a clear picture of how a majority of red shirt protesters genuinely if somewhat mistakenly believed – at least initially – that they were part of a peaceful protest to restore democracy and create a fairer system of government. However, just how credible it is to believe that even the most well-intentioned red shirt could have remained oblivious to the truth as events unfolded is stretching the realms of possibility.

It is hard to justify the red shirts’ claim to have been peaceful protestors fighting for a just cause when their leaders regularly urged them to turn Bangkok into “a sea of fire” and a well-trained, well-armed, well-organised and well-funded secret militia was able to operate freely from within their midst and kill soldiers as well as civilians.

For their part, the military are shown in the report to have handled the situation badly. After allowing the protest to go on for too long and escalate beyond manageable proportions, the use of force employed particularly during the final crackdown was described as both excessive and apparently indiscriminate – an action that is alleged to have resulted in the deaths of unarmed protesters, bystanders and even medics.

In response to the publication of the report, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban reacted angrily while the red shirts have been unusually quiet.

While Suthep’s denial is sadly typical of the response of both sides, it is perhaps the red shirts’ silence in light of this neutral report’s findings that is the most telling. The silence of the usually vociferous red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan in particular says far more than his homicidal rhetoric ever did.

Despite the glimmer of truth, the lies continue to flow as the election approaches. In a bid to win their votes, Thaksin Shinawatra announced to 1,000 taxi and motorcycle taxi drivers during a phone-in that he would provide them with an equal opportunity to get into debt by giving them credit cards. He went on to say that he did not want to give any details of this policy as he was worried the Democrats would steal it.

If Thaksin’s concern was truly for the taxi and motorcycle drivers, and if his policy was genuinely designed to benefit them, then why would it matter who implemented it? If, however, it were a cheap ploy to win votes and gain power, then his comment would make sense.

And the impending chaos of the election moved a step closer last week when Prime Minsiter Abhisit submitted for royal endorsement a decree to dissolve the House of Representatives. It is expected to be approved with an election date set for either June 26 or July 3.

As campaigning gets into full swing, and with the truth having proven less than popular, we can expect a return to normalcy this week as truth will once more be the first casualty of this dirty war.

Paul Snowdon – May 7, 2011

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Have your say...

28 Nov 2015, 06:12
Acting on a touch of remorse that I wasn't seineg enough of my family, I organised what was supposed to be an impromptu, calm week away from everything in Thailand for us all. We arrived and the whole place went mental.The day we landed in Bangkok, the Red Team was rioting and trying to get rid of the Yellow Team. Thai politics is pretty simple as they wear colour-coded uniforms, making it a lot easier to understand for the visiting spectator.There was a lot of hullabaloo about it on all the news channels but it's quite difficult to get nervous about Thai riots. In somewhere like South Korea you get students tooled up with Molotov cocktails and setting themselves alight before hurling themselves on to lines of heavily armed riot police. In South Africa, mobs might stone police while putting opponents into tyres before setting fire to them. The most the Thai Red Team could do was set a bus alight and even for this they looked quite embarrassed.Thais are not really cut out for violent protest – this is, after all, the Land of Smiles. It's difficult to riot with a big smile: it just doesn't sit right. We hotfooted it up north to Chiang Mai; not for any cowardly reason – it's just a lot cooler up there. Unbelievably however, as our car left Chiang Mai airport, we were attacked on numerous occasions. Luckily for us, the assailants were only throwing water bombs.We'd landed right in the middle of Songkran, the Thai New Year festival. Since this takes place in the hottest month of the year it used to be traditional for people to spray each other with water to cool themselves down. In Chiang Mai this has been taken to another level – a three-day urban water assault that is quite extraordinary. Scores of pickup trucks roam the streets with huge barrels of water in the back and seven or eight youths hurling the stuff at everyone and anyone. Meanwhile, gangs wait on street corners with buckets and hoses while moped drivers weave in and out of the traffic with the pillion passenger using huge water pistols to deadly effect. After five minutes or so you relinquish any hope of staying dry and focus on finding the best weapon you can buy for defence.We stopped at a petrol station and bought four huge Super Soakers. Continuing onwards towards the hotel, we executed several very successful drive-by shootings. By now, the kids were completely in love with the country and wanted to move here as soon as possible.My four-year-old son, Jackson, was all for getting out of our vehicle and engaging in some hand-to-hand combat, but we were tired and the lure of falling into a cooling pool was successful. We settled in quickly and any thoughts of revolution quickly faded as we tried to switch off from everyday life. Then my eight-year-old daughter, Parker, made friends with a girl who lived in Bangkok and came back that night full of alarm: Dad, did you know that if you stepped on a coin with the Thai king's head on it you could go to prison? I replied that I didn't know that but that I would be very careful in future when handling money. Also, Dad, if you put a statue of Buddha underwater then he can drown and you can be arrested for that as well. I assured her that we had no statues of Buddha but that, if we did, they would be kept very dry.Later that evening, on the telly, I watched the Thai riot police use water cannon on the Red Team down in Bangkok – and it wasn't for Songkran. It seems that you can't drown the Buddha, but Buddhists are fair game.
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