UPDATED Do ‘Watermelon Soldiers’ Cause Split in the Thai Military?

Anasuya Sanyal, Channel News Asia‘s Bangkok correspondent, has reported on the apparent divisions inside the security forces. The transcript can be found here, including the link to the video of her report.

The term ‘watermelon soldiers’ may sound cute, but it’s a phenomenon that’s increasingly dangerous for the Thai military. It refers to soldiers who wear green on the outside but harbour Red Shirt sympathies on the inside.

Those influences have contributed to failure to bring an end to the six-week long protest that has roiled the Thai capital.

The situation turned violent when masked gunmen coolly opened fire on the Thai army last Saturday, taking out three officers and injuring scores of others, before a truce was called.

Said Thai Army Spokesman, Colonel Sansern Kaewkwamnerd, “Of course soldiers have their own political views. But when they are on duty, they are acting on behalf of the army. They cannot disobey orders.

“However, we are trying to examine whether any officers leaked intelligence to violent Red Shirt protesters. I believe every officer understands his role. However, if we find any, they will be punished accordingly.”

Military law prohibits unauthorised personnel from giving out any information to the media.

But Thailand’s most famous rogue officer, Major General Khattiya Sawadipol, “Seh Daeng”, has come to epitomise the fissures in the military establishment.

And as a Red Shirt supporter, he explains the sentiment among the Kingdom’s rank and file, and common origins and a similar socio-economic background make for mutual understanding.

The military is completely red, excluding the top commanders. The army could disintegrate at any moment, but chain of command and military discipline is holding it together for now. But [rank and file soldiers] see their parents are in the protest, so their loyalty to the military is in question,” said Major General Khattiya.

A week before Saturday’s deadly clashes, there were many displays of friendship between the Red Shirt protesters and those sent to disperse them.

‘Watermelon soldiers’ increasingly dangerous for Thai military“, by Anasuya Sanyal, Channel News Asia, April 16, 2010

The video also shows some scenes of police forces showing their sympathy to the red shirts. The issue of security forces fraternizing with the protestors has been mentioned here before.

There’s also still the question of a ‘third force’ that has fired into the crowd last Saturday. There have been hints to gunmen dressing in black roaming through the chaos, like this picture showing a masked man with an AK-47. The aforementioned Major General Khattiya alias Sae Daeng has also hinted that “Ronin warriors” were firing grenades at the soldiers. Also one reporter at The Nation thinks it was “not a botched anti-riot operation nor a lynching mob gone berserk. It was a head-on skirmish between two well-trained armed forces – one in fatigues and another in black. The red shirts were just props in the battlefield.” Prachatai features an account of an unnamed soldier during the clashes, basically describing being overwhelmed in the chaos.

Al Jazeera English has also a report on the armed forces’ role, with mentions of the rumored divisions and the military spokesman denying them.

One does not want to imagine what would happen if the military starts turning onto each other, if they haven’t already begun.

UPDATE: Shawn Crispin has also written a thorough analysis on this topic at Asia Times. It also makes references to the seemingly random grenade attacks in recent weeks.

Advertisements