Thailand’s Democrat Party rallies behind “men in black” conspiracy

Originally published at Siam Voices on October 15, 2012

On Saturday, members of Thailand’s opposition Democrat Party rallied in the streets of Bangkok that were the scenes of the bloody clashes of the anti-government protests in 2010. At least 92 people were killed and thousands were injured when the red shirts rallied and blocked off streets in central Bangkok in order to force out the government of that very same party, that of then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They took to the streets recently to present their own version of under what circumstances people, both civilians and security officers alike, lost their lives and also who is to be blamed.

The mobile rally, accompanied by supporters wearing black T-shirts, black balaclavas and cardboard rifles, made stops at various places of the 2010 protests. One of them was Wat Pathum Wan, a Buddhist temple which was supposedly a designated safe zone after the bloody crackdown of May 19, 2010. However, six were killed inside the temple compound by shots fired from the elevated BTS tracks, where soldiers where supposedly engaged in a firefight with nearby armed men.

The Democrat Party held an emotional rally in Lumpini Park yesterday to condemn the government and provide its version of the military crackdown against red shirt protesters in 2010 when it was in power.

Party members attempted to shed light on the mysterious men in black who had been linked to the red shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and who were believed by some to have attacked security forces and killed people during the 2010 political violence.

Abhisit urges truth about men in black“, Bangkok Post, October 14, 2012

The ‘men in black’ are the often mentioned group of armed men that have been spotted at various incidents like during the first clashes of April 10, 2010 and have reportedly fought against military forces. Countless rumors have been made about their affiliations, among them allegedly being under command of the late Maj. Gen. Khattiya ’Seh Daeng’ Sawatdiphol, who had his own group of ‘security personnel’ during the rally and was considered to be a hawkish hardliner among the red shirt protest leaders. ‘Seh Daeng’ was shot by a sniper (most likely from a building under military control) on May 13, 2010 while he was giving an interview for The New York Times and later died in a hospital.

The activities culminated in a rally in Lumphini Park, not far from where Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi was killed on May 19, 2010 – recent reports suggest he was killed by shots from the army side (same goes for the death of Japanese Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto). Reportedly 2,000 supporters listened to the speeches by the Democrat Party heavyweights, as they presented “The Truth Without Colours” – same as the book by party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva that is being currently released. The takeaway from this event was probably this accusation:

The Democrats yesterday accused ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of being behind the so-called “men in black” who were allegedly hired to kill innocents including red-shirt protesters in order to smear the previous Abhisit government.

Democrats: Thaksin was behind ‘men in black’“, The Nation, October 14, 2012

Despite or rather especially because of this, last Saturday’s rally is very reminiscent in style and content to their pre-election rally at Rajaprasong in 2011, where in a last-ditch attempt the Democrat Party was presenting their version of what happened at that intersection during the military crackdown and taking every opportunity to blame Thaksin for rallying up a ‘red mob’ and painting him as the main reason of the political crisis.

Another parallel is that both rallies were primarily held to fire up their own supporter base, as those loyal to one political party are unlikely to switch allegiances and those neutral are likely by now fed up with the bi-partisan bickering. This shows that the Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest political party, has moved forward very little since their defeat in the 2011 elections and sometimes come across as desperate, as their antics in parliament earlier this year have shown.

However, what is particularly striking is the apparent willingness of the Democrat Party to still overlook the role of the military during the protests, as this tweet by Abhisit shows: he wrote that “if there weren’t any ‘men in black’, no policeman, civilian or red shirt would have lost their lives!”

It bears some cruel irony that this political rally, meant to reveal the ‘truth’ of what happened to the victims of the bloody clashes during these 9 and a half weeks in 2010, took place on the same weekend as the anniversary of October 14, 1973, when pro-democracy protesters were brutally gunned down by the military regime of Field Marshal Thanom. Seventy-seven people were killed and over 800 were injured, but ultimately no one was held responsible. It is this culture of impunity that still prevails today and that is being preserved by the mindset the Democrat Party (but also the Pheu Thai government, should they give a blanket amnesty including for Thaksin) is still promoting with this rally – by focussing on one issue only and completely missing the bigger picture.