A few days before Major-General Khattiya Sawasdipol was targeted for
death in an alleged niper attack Thursday, his Seh Daeng or "Commander
Red" nickname was in the air.
Many Bangkokians weary of the Red
Shirts who have paralyzed the city and disrupted their lives had already
concluded that Khattiya was an obstacle to peace. He was shot in the
head while talking with New York Times reporter Thomas Fuller and was in
intensive care in a Bangkok hospital. The government had branded him a
"terrorist" who was accused of not only having masterminded the April 10
riot that killed 25 but also of fomenting violence through a series of
mysterious grenade attacks leading up to April 10 and after. The grenade
blasts wounded at least a hundred people.
Khattiya's name came
to dominate the discourse soon after peace talks between the Abhisit
Vejajjiva government and the United Front for Democracy Against
Dictatorship or UDD – the Red Shirts — collapsed over the weekend. It
therefore came as no surprise that he would be taken out.
was frontier justice," said a source. "The moment (Khattiya) bragged and
took credit for some of the April 10 targeted assassinations of
(Colonel) Romklao Thuwatham and other soldiers, he was a dead man."
sources confirmed that Khattiya was targeted for breaking the
Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy code of honor: thou shalt not kill a
"This was out of another era: live by the
sword, die by the sword," the source added. It is not the first time in
Thai history that frontier eye-for-an-eye justice is administered to
renegade officers. And Khattiya, from Chulachomklao Class 11, was
suspended from duty in January for insubordination. Defense Minister
Prawit Wongsuwon signed Khattiya's dismissal papers Sunday according to
local media. It was no secret that Khattiya had openly taunted army
chief Anupong Paochinda.
Chulachomklao – Thailand's West Point
or Sandhurst – produces the army's finest commissioned officers and
leaders. Colonel Romklao, the deputy chief of staff of the 2nd Infantry
Division and Queen Sirikit's former body guard was one such officer from
Class 36. Romklao was widely accepted by Thais and foreign observers as
an honorable officer and gentleman who was a tough act to follow.
Romklao's contributions to peace and managing civilian affairs in the
southern border provinces were among his most significant. A Catholic in
a largely Buddhist institution, Romklao was said to be sympathetic to
Malay-Muslims in the strife-torn South. But by testifying against the
"red shirts" in parliament after last year's "Songkran riots" that
Romklao had put down, he didn't win friends in the red camp.
Sirikit attended Romklao's funeral early last month after shadowy
black-shirted so-called Ronin soldiers had assassinated the colonel
during the April 10 melee. The Queen's appearance and public support for
Romklao were not unusual but analysts note that it came in the wake of
the palace's silence on the crisis.
The Thai queen had early on
stirred controversy when she attended the funeral of a "yellow shirt"
demonstrator in October 2008 when the People's Alliance for Democracy or
PAD clashed with police.
The "black shirts" who had moved among
the Red Shirts on April 10 had launched M79 and expert sniper attacks
against army troops, hitting Romklao in a laser-precision move. It is
still not clear who commandeered the "black shirts" but Khattiya was the
only one who claimed some responsibility for the fallen soldiers even
though, observers say, he is not believed to have the wherewithal to
launch a sophisticated political assassination operation.
say the real masterminds would not have bragged about the dead
soldiers, and that the true killers could still be out there operating
surreptitiously. The army, however, sources say, had to make a scapegoat
out of Khattiya or risk losing its own credibility. The Thai army has
denied any involvement.
"What happened to (Khattiya) was totally
unexpected," said Colonel Dithaporn Sasasmit, spokesman for the
army-run Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC).
The PAD and
other hard-line factions opposed to the Red Shirts have been pressuring
both Prime Minister Abhisit and General Anupong to crackdown on
Khattiya and the Red Shirts.
Public emotions had also reached a
crescendo after the UDD's rogue paramilitary guards, led by Khattiya
raided Chulalongkorn Hospital a fortnight ago looking for troops they
mistakenly believed to be operating from within its premises. The
hospital was forced to evacuate its patients, turning many Bangkokians
decisively against the Red Shirts.
The UDD apologized to the
public and the moderates in the UDD distanced themselves from Khattiya's
Khattiya was often seen mixing with his
vigilante guards who dress in black and who control access to the
Ratchaprasong encampment where the Red Shirts have stayed put since
mid-March despite an agreement last week for them to cease the
confrontation in exchange for a November election date.
his shooting, Khattiya was also often seen signing autographs for his
Red Shirt fans, many of whom were women who often lined up to be
photographed with him.
Khattiya was taken to Hua Chiew Hospital
and later moved to another Bangkok hospital. Both hospitals were heavily
guarded by police last night. Khattiya is reported to be in a coma.
Unlike April 10, Red Shirts were not allowed anywhere near the hospital
grounds but several of his supporters got in wearing ordinary clothing.
One such supporter was Khattiya's teacher, who taught him how to use a
computer and helped him to set up his website sae-dang.com that is
blocked by the Thai authorities. His teacher, who asked only to be
identified as Ken said in broken English: "He was clever. And always
kindness. He treats people all same (equally). He was not careful
Indeed. Khattiya said in an interview with the
Bangkok Post just before he was shot that he had refused to remove his
military fatigues, thereby exposing him to his enemies.
[red shirt security] commander-in-chief, I can't fear anything,'' the
59-year-old Khattiya said. Discarding the military fatigues "would make
me feel like one who fears death, and would prevent me from leading
others who do not have protective clothing."