Red Shirts Storm Satellite Station as Questions About Army’s Loyalty Arise

(Picture by @SaiManasvee)

First it was taken off air, then back on, and now it is off air again.

Today’s action saw yet another escalation in the increasing fierce anti-government protests of the red shirts as they stormed a television satellite compound in the North of Bangkok in order to get their television People’s Channel back on air again.

People’s Channel (PTV) was founded by former executives of the now disbanded Thai Rak Thai party of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose involvement and financial support is being regularly denied. This channel acts in the same way as a mouthpiece for the red shirt protesters as it does for the yellow shirts with their channel ASTV. Almost non-stop they are broadcasting the happenings on the rally stages and were also very quick to show the events surrounding the actions unfolding, such as the bizarre blood stunt.

It was hardly surprising that under the state of emergency decree this channel was about to be taken off air, as much hardly surprising as the red shirts were going to try to regain control at the aforementioned satellite. What was surprising though were the scenes on the ground as the protesters clashed with military and police.

Hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails, the protesters breached the barbed-wire perimeter of Thaicom Public Co. Ltd. within minutes, but did not enter the main building. As they moved into the compound, security forces threw tear gas canisters and fired water cannons but then quickly retreated into the main building as thousands of protesters swarmed around it. (…)

After the clash, some security forces were seen throwing down their shields and riot gear and shaking hands with the protesters. In recent weeks, police have frequently shown sympathy with the protesters and analysts say the security forces, especially the police, are split in their loyalties, making it difficult for the government to enforce its orders.

The Red Shirts offered water to soldiers and police, and showed reporters a small cache of weapons, including M-16 assault rifles, they had seized from soldiers.

”We’ve got the upper hand. But we no longer can claim we are peaceful,” said Thep Jitra, one of the protesters. ”I suppose (those who broke into compound) have been emotionally repressed for so long. I’m sure this is such a release for them. This is payback time.

Thai Protesters Storm Into TV Station“, Associated Press via The New York Times, April 9, 2010

The incidents today yet again poses the question about the (for a lack of a better term) loyalty of the security forces. As mentioned in the article above, there have been scenes of sympathy with the red shirts. While this is in conformity with the non-confrontational stance of the government towards them (and so far mostly that was the case), there are doubts about on which side the armed forces are now, especially since the enforcement of the state of emergency has still not occurred yet.

Warangkana Chomchuen of NBC News raises the issue of so-called ‘watermelon soldiers’ within the ranks of the army.

Ever since that incident [Black May 1992], handling government protesters of any ideological stripe with force has become sensitive and the army doesn’t want to be a villain.

But many believe the army remains active behind the scenes and that the relationship between the military and politicians is inseparable. Especially since politicians help advance soldiers’ careers, and cordial relations with the government help smooth the way for budget allocations and weapons purchases.

In recent weeks, however, the term “watermelon soldiers” has been used to describe troops who wear green uniforms, but are sympathetic to the Red Shirts.

Whose Side is the Thai Military On?“, Warangkana Chomchuen, NBC News, April 9, 2010

The term ‘watermelon soldiers’ has been also mentioned by one of the red shirt leaders (cannot remember which one) earlier this week just shortly after the state of emergency has been declared, saying that many high-ranking officers are indeed ‘watermelon soldiers’ and will try to avoid to disperse the protesters.

Meanwhile, PTV has been yanked off the air again, as the red shirts left to returned to Bangkok and the army moved back in again. The cat and mouse game continues.

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