Conflict & Justice

Human Rights Watch: Thai troops, anti-government militants killing in plain sight


''Red Shirt'' anti-government protesters carry a man who was shot during clashes between demonstrators and security forces in Bangkok on May 15, 2010.



In the year that has passed since Bangkok's chaotic political violence, all the grand promises of reconciliaiton have become a joke.

If anything, both the military-backed government and the anti-government "Red Shirts" movement have entrenched their positions with the passage of time.

Despite recent reports that the army fired a staggering 100,000 bullets to during protests, the government insists none were intentionally fired at unarmed protesters. Predicatably, no officials have been charged.

As for so-called "Men in Black" militants that emerged to fire back at troops with assault rifles and grenade launchers? Just last week, the Red Shirt chieftans told foreign reporters those militants were actually government agents in disguise. "The psychological warfare group created this 'Black Shirt' identity in order to blame us," said Jatuporn Prompan, a parliamentarian and Red Shirt leader.

With so much distortion, you have to wonder how the violence will go down in the history books. Thankfully, Human Rights Watch has released a report "Descent Into Chaos" that chronicles this turning point for Thailand in vivid detail.

From someone who covered the turmoil for two months, the report strikes me as quite accurate - at least after a first read.

I suspect both the Red Shirts and the military will hate it.

Here are a few notable excerpts:

1. "The whole operation was staggering in its incompetence," said an analyst with Jane's Intelligence Review who witnessed a troop incursion into Bangkok's largest park.  "You had scared young conscripts blazing away at the tents in Lumphini Park without any fire control. There wasn’t the command and control that you would expect during such an operation."

2. The report states unequivocally that "unarmed protesters appeared to have been killed with single shots to the head, indicating possible use of snipers and high-powered scopes" and cites a foreign eyewitness as reporting "what you had were snipers with scopes taking people out with headshots, people who at most had a slingshot." (A total of 94 people were interviewed for the report.)

3. The rogue army general named "Seh Daeng," famously shot dead while chatting with a New York Times reporter, was not the "true leader" of the "Men in Black" militants contrary to popular perception. He "had a large following among urban youth and toughs who created and manned the barricades he helped design, and who confronted the army with mostly homemade weapons like slingshots (firing metal bolts and ball bearings), homemade fireworks, rockets, petrol bombs, burning tires, and rocks." But the report states he may not have commanded the better-armed and trained shadowy resistance movement.