No Reconciliation for Thailand's Red Shirts

Despite public promises of compromise by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand's military-backed government is continuing to tighten the screws on protesters, most recently freezing bank accounts belonging to 83 wealthy suspected supporters of the two-month insurrection which ended in May.

"I insist that the government has never intended to persecute anyone," Abhisit told reporters after freezing the accounts. However, what is going on outside on the streets appears to belie that as the Army's crackdown continues. As Asia Sentinel reported on June 16, at least 435 Red Shirt protesters remain in Thai jails and prisons, with more believed to be added every day.

Although the government must call elections before 2011 is out, Abhisit is showing no sign that they will be held any time soon. The government has also launched a massive, expensive public relations campaign to convince Thais and the international community that this Buddhist majority, Southeast Asian nation is back on track.

A major concern for international investors is how far the Abhisit government is willing to go to impede the international flow of capital in its attempts to run down the supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is outside the country. The documents released in connection with the sequestration of the accounts didn't indicate a paper trail, making it opaque as to far, or where, the government is willing to look for connectons to Thaksin.

Some 83 prominent Thais were named publicly Monday in a government-issued financial blacklist, alongside details of how much money they allegedly withdrew from their bank accounts during the failed two-month-long protests. The list includes family members of the fugitive Thaksin, 23 politicians, 15 businesspersons, 17 protest leaders of the Red Shirts, better known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, and five retired senior military officers and police officers.

"The government is trying to weaken the Red network, especially the sources of its funding, using the accusation of the existence of a terrorist network as a justification in doing so,"said a think-tank source. "Dangerously, the Bangkok residents agree with the government's plan. Some of those are in the opposition party, Puea Thai, so this could also mean that they want to weaken their political opponents and this could cause an impact on the upcoming election, although it will not be any time soon."

The frozen accounts may make it difficult for the Reds' preferred Puea Thai party to organize and campaign later on. The immediate focus of the blacklist, however, appears to be an attempt to link those names to the Reds' illegal barricading of central Bangkok and take action against anyone found guilty of funding the siege. Bangkok and 23 of Thailand's 76 provinces are still under "emergency rule" -- one step below martial law -- which empowers the military and other authorities to arrest, secretly detain and interrogate suspects, and censor TV and radio broadcasts, newspapers and Internet websites, along with other forms of control.

Even those off the list are being monitored closely, the source said, with the idea that if they have transferred large sums of money they could be put on the list as well. "This government is very assertive indeed," the source said.

The 83 alleged financiers have been ordered by Gen. Anupong Poachinda to report to the Department of Special Investigation starting Monday, June 28, according to Tharit Pengdit, the department chief. Under Anupong's order, financial institutions will be required to submit additional documents on transactions by the 83 if asked, Tharit said.

"I still believe that there are attempts to financially support [the Red Shirts] by a network of supporters," Abhisit told reporters. He promised to put Red Shirt leaders and activists on trial as "terrorists," which could result in death sentences or lengthy imprisonment. Critics of Abhisit's crackdown say the government is continuing to exaggerate the Red Shirts' actions in an attempt to dodge responsibility for the 90 people – 79 of them civilians – who died during clashes between protesters and the military, which also injured 1,800 others.

The Reds have demanded that the prime minister and other top government and military leaders be put on trial for murder because they allowed the army to use US-supplied M-16 and Israeli-made Tavor assault rifles, plus armored personnel carriers and other weapons.

The government said that while most of the thousands of Red Shirts were relatively peaceful, a secretive unidentified group among their supporters used rifles and grenades against the military, prompting the army to deploy thousands of troops and use force in "self-defense."

Speakers at a forum at Bangkok's Thammasat University on June 19 accused the army of using excessive force against the Red Shirts, and said the government committed human rights abuses.

"What the state has done is in violation of the United Nations' principles on human rights," Krittiya Archavanikul of Mahidol University's Human Rights Center said at the forum. "The state has used the term 'terrorism' to clean the dirt it is hiding."

The Reds have widespread support in Thailand's north and northeast, and among the urban poor in Bangkok and other cities. The Reds remain angry over the military's 2006 bloodless coup that ousted Thaksin and that an amnesty was arranged for the coup leaders to avoid prosecution while no such amnesty appears in sight for Thaksin, who became an international fugitive after being convicted for corruption and sentenced in absentia to two years imprisonment, or his followers.

Who made the list

The financial blacklist includes Thaksin's divorced wife, Pojaman Damapong, for allegedly withdrawing Bt54 million (US$1.6 million) between September 2009 and May this year, as well as two of their adult children, son Panthongtae Shinawatra, and unmarried daughter Pinthongta Shinawatra, who made combined withdrawals totaling nearly 11 billion baht (US$330 million), along with four other relatives.

More than a dozen politicians who are perceived as supporting Mr. Thaksin and the Reds are also on the list alongside seven Red Shirt leaders. Among the politicians, the biggest withdrawals appeared to be by Sudarat Keyuraphan, who had been an executive in Thaksin's party. After the 2006 coup, she was among 101 people banned from politics for five years due to a ruling against their now-dissolved Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party for election violations. The seven Red leaders included three who were very outspoken during the protests: Veera Musikhapong, Kwanchai Praipana, and Weng Tojirakarn. Companies on the list included S.C. Asset Corporation, P.T. Corporation, S.C.K. Estate, S.C. Office Park, and other Thai financial management services. No evidence was made public linking any individuals' withdrawals to other people's deposits, nor was a paper trail offered to show where the withdrawals went.

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. His web page is http://www.asia-correspondent.110mb.com