Red shirts consolidate forces

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The area near Phan Fa Bridge on Ratchadamnoen Avenue is practically deserted by Wednesday afternoon after red shirt protesters abandoned the site to consolidate their forces at Ratchaprasong intersection. APICHART JINAKUL

ANALYSIS: The UDD has moved to Ratchaprasong to prepare for what one leader says is the 'final stage' of the fight


Wassana Nanuam, Mongkol Bangprapa and Achara Ashayagachat
Bangkok Post

The red shirts' strategic decision to move to a single stronghold in the heart of the capital will force the government to abandon any plans to launch another crackdown, a source says.

It means the government's only course to resolve the stalemate will likely be through negotiations.

Four days after the deadly clashes between soldiers and anti-government protesters, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship yesterday abandoned its stage at Phan Fa Bridge to consolidate its forces at one main gathering site at Ratchaprasong intersection.

Last night, tens of thousands of red shirts had gathered in the upmarket shopping district.

''The government said it wanted the Phan Fa area back but never said it wanted Ratchaprasong intersection. So we returned Phan Fa and moved to Ratchaprasong intersection because we do not want another clash,'' UDD co-leader Natthawut Saikua said.

''I hope the government won't demand the return of another area as another excuse for gunning down people again.''

The idea behind shutting down the Phan Fa stage and keeping only one going in the shopping and tourism district is to strengthen the numbers and morale of the anti-government group.

The move is to prepare for the ''final stage'' of the fight against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his administration, said Jatuporn Prompan, another UDD leader.

The UDD yesterday cancelled a march to the 11th Infantry Division to avoid confrontation with the army.

A source at the Centre for Public Administration in Emergency Situations said the one-stage tactic was a strategy to corner the government to end the stand-off by political means only.

The Ratchaprasong area posed a problem for the use of force to clamp down on the demonstrators because there are too many buildings for soldiers to control, the source said.

The location was perfect for snipers to shoot people from high vantage points and a crackdown could cause severe damage to shops, shopping centres and hotels around the occupied area, the source said.

''A decision to crack down on protesters at Ratchaprasong would mean solders would have to take control of every floor in every building, which would require a huge force.

''More importantly, the operation needs units specially trained in an urban operation. I cannot imagine the number of soldiers needed,'' the source said.

''Key UDD leaders have advisers who are current and retired soldiers. They have studied the same textbooks and probably studied at the same army command school [as serving officers].

''They believe the army will probably launch another attack on the Phan Fa demonstration and have decided to move to only one place at Ratchaprasong intersection, which is more difficult for military operations.''

The Phan Fa stage was set up on March 12 and the Ratchaprasong area has been occupied since April 4.

A commander of an army unit in Bangkok said soldiers were very familiar with areas on Ratchadamnoen Avenue as it has been the site of bloody clashes from Oct 14, 1973, to Black May in 1992 and the most recent deadly incident on Saturday.

The officer admitted the army would obviously be at a disadvantage if another military operation was carried out at Ratchaprasong.

''The other side has stayed there for some time. They [their security guards] have checked and prepared for this scenario,'' he said.

Another source at the centre said that if a military crackdown was ruled out, another option for security authorities would be to capture key leaders who are the subject of arrest warrants.

Michael Nelson, a visiting scholar in political science at Chulalongkorn University, said confusion loomed large as the government had still to find those responsible for the bombings and shootings that took place before the April 10 skirmish.

''No one would like to see more casualties. No one would like to see third- or fourth-hand instigators. But the situation is still fluid and the responsibility lies with all sides not to kick-start the next round of mayhem,'' Mr Nelson said.

The UDD's relocation to Ratchaprasong intersection is due to be completed this morning with all traffic routes returned to normal.

Pitsamai Mokekul, 39, from Sakon Nakhon, said the merger of the Phan Fa and Ratchaprasong stages would give the UDD more bargaining power.

''Here we are in the heart of the business quarter. If the government remains defiant, it risks dragging down the national economy,'' she said.


Post a Comment