Voices from the Aftermath

Written by Andrew Marshall

Posted on 20 May 2010

Today, I walked through the near-deserted Rajaprasong protest site in a state of disbelief. I went to interview the last remaining Red Shirts—many of them women, children and elderly—who had sought refuge in Pathumwanaram temple as troops stormed this area of central Bangkok on Wednesday. With dozens of their comrades dead, and their leaders either under arrest or on the run, how did they feel? The short answer: sad, angry, and determined to fight on.

Red Shirt stage today (Photo by Andrew Marshall)

After six weeks it was hard to imagine Rajaprasong ever being protest-free. I walked through a military checkpoint outside Central department store, then past burned-out trucks and the charred remains of Red Shirt barricades. Beyond lay hastily abandoned shelters where the ground was strewn with clothes, sleeping mats, cooking stoves, shoes, heart-shaped clappers, and bags of festering rubbish.

The stage, with its now familiar banner—PEACEFUL PROTESTERS, NOT TERRORISTS—was deserted. Yesterday, I watched live on television as Nattawut Saikua, a core Red Shirt leader, stood on this stage and announced that he was about to surrender to the police. The crowd had jeered him. Now, the only spectators were dozens of empty plastic chairs.

The military offensive yesterday sparked dozens of arson attacks by protesters across Bangkok. Here at Rajaprasong, Central World—a giant structure containing two large department stores and scores of smaller shops—sustained the most damage. A section of the building has collapsed. Firefighters were still hosing down the smoldering wreckage. What glass remains on the building’s south side is shattered, soot-blackened or pockmarked with what looks like bullet and grenade holes. This building was once called the World Trade Center: its superstitious owners changed its name after the 9/11 attacks in the U.S.

Almost next door is Pathumwanaram temple. As I arrived, hundreds of Red Shirts were filing out through its gates, across the road, and into the headquarters of the Royal Thai Police opposite. At the back of the temple, six bodies—five men, one woman—lay on bloodied mats beneath the trees. They had been shot outside the temple the night before, then dragged through its gates. There, next to a shop selling Buddhism books and other religious supplies, flies buzzed around pools of drying blood.

Across the road at the police headquarters, about 1,500 protesters waited to go home. They were separated according to their province of origin, fed, and put on buses bound for home. The process took all morning.

The protesters were dejected, anxious, and exhausted. They were also defiant. “They got us out of here,” said Puwanai Sorabud, 40, a tour guide returning to the northern town of Chiang Rai, “but that doesn’t mean they’ve won. They can’t fight this many voices.”

The exodus reminded Nuan Kulboon, 65, a northeasterner who lived in Bangkok, of her days working with refugees on the Thailand-Cambodian border. “This situation isn’t very different,” she said. “We are refugees in our own country.”

Nuan had been in the temple for four terrifying days. “Nobody wants to stop fighting. This is the truth. Everyone here is saying, ‘I want my rights. I want my freedom.’”

Outside, a police sound-truck cruised slowly through the area. “Leave! Leave!” ordered the officer through his microphone. A few stragglers scooped up their belongings and hurried towards the police headquarters. One woman, Mayuree Sawatasai, a Red Shirt leader from Ayuthaya, fought back tears as she packed up her things. She understood Nattawut’s decision to surrender, although didn’t agree with it. “He doesn’t want us to get hurt. But we insisted on staying. We didn’t want to stop.”

After two months of disruption and distress, Bangkok can breathe a little easier. But only a little. Talk to the Red Shirts today, and even those who disagree vehemently with their views will understand that Thailand’s political turbulence is far from over.

The Reds will return to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, to Buriram and Mukdahan, to Nong Khai and Nan, bringing home first-hand accounts of the bloody battle of Bangkok. Towns and villages across the north and northeast will be further radicalized. Until talks between the Reds and the government collapsed last week, a November election had seemed possible. But it is hard to imagine an election ever being held in such a poisonous political atmosphere.

I asked Puwanai from Chiang Mai what he will do when he gets home. “I don’t know yet,” he replied. “But if there are more protests, I’ll be back. We have to fight.”

I asked Mayuree from Ayuthaya the same question. “Wait and see,” she replied.


  1. Rudi Blom says:

    I still don’t understand what these people want. Rights and freedom? Democracies also know duties. More involvement is local development, less dependency on corrupt ‘overlords’ of any color. A reasonable paying job. Well start talking, now the government needs to show that participation in their road-map is wanted. Open-minded discussions. Elections can come later, in a way not really important unless we can agree on changes first.

  2. Rea Rome says:

    good comment! Democracy in first place is about obligations and law and order not rights. More education, better property rights and freedom of speech are all necessary.

  3. nuc001 says:

    But doesn’t Democracy exist by the rule “One Man One Vote”? I mean, there are obligations and law and order in a Communist country, but no rights. Also how can you call a country where one goverment kills their opposition in public stays in power when another previous Prime Minister lost his power by cooking food on TV a Democratic country with law and order? Just sounds like one-sided bullying to me.

  4. Anna Kasem says:

    Thank you for having documented the aftermath. What happened is a result of pseudo-democracy in the country. Corrupt governments and politicians took good education and access to power from the people in the rural areas. I’m not saying that Thaksin is a great leader (he too corrupted, but it was the first time for the people to feel that they could stand on their feet (in a community) and they too could have access to education & training plus entrepreneurship because of Thaksin’s policy and admin skills. Then the coup took that away from them. I trust that the people could decide what’s best for them once they could earn and be happy with “basic necessities” rathern than being told what to do all the time.

  5. Now it is the end rather than the begining of the peace in this country. The gap between the rich and the poor is widened. We, the lower rank people who have nothing in comparison with the rich, can do nothing to maintain our breath for freedom and social equality. If you – the winners think the war ended; think again. It just the end of the fist episode of the long civil war. Peace by force will not last long.

  6. Red Robin says:

    All propaganda is brain wash thaias …. they vision across what’Real in this situation
    they only satisfied red people die and not blame thai Gov. cause they do right Thing
    but Red People on this crisis know the real situation they see thier friend / monk / pregnant women dying .they know who shoot evethought thai Gov tell it’s not from their soilder…but they still remember……………They lost and turn back to their home and they still……..remember

  7. Rudi Blom says:

    I said open-minded discussions, not prejudiced! Yes a lot is wrong, but you have to start somewhere. The road-map calls for input and discussions of all parties. So do that. Just ranting about injustice, better times, etc., doesn’t help. Just saying you are willing to die for democracy as K. Jaruporn said, surrender to police AND released because of his MP status, seems to indicate a judicial system that works.

  8. dreams says:

    its not like thailand ever really had a REAL democracy. it has always ended where ‘who ever invested in BUYING the most votes wins’. so get over the democracy bullcrap. If you interview these protestors one by one i can assure you, there will be very few that can explain to you what ‘democracy’ actually means.

  9. dreams says:

    without the richer people, how would the poorer people get employed? I’m never keen on the wealthy thais, but without them – who would hire drivers? maids? security guards? without the big high rises, who would hire construction workers? without all these malls, who would hire shopkeepers???

    For those who still want to believe that the protestors were innocent and the soldiers were evil…. The next time someone kicks you out of your home, rob it,and then burn it down… I hope you remember your own words.

    And so far, we have seen that they have found their ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ – inside the ATM machines, 7-11, and burning people’s properties down….. right?

  10. Enlightenment says:

    I heard you Reds! It is clear that Thai government used excessive forces against unarmed civilians. It is a brutal massacre. We must stop double standard and bring justice to all. Sadly, too many middle-class are snob and ignorant. But ironically, they’re the one who being brainwashed by royalist propaganda.

    Abhisit is a shame to Thailand, a bloody tyrant. I hope he’ll be prosecuted soon. The Reds might lose the battle, but they will win the war. And this time, I will fight with you!

  11. J says:

    2000+ people died under Thaksin’s “war on drugs” that allowed corrupt police to be judge,jury and executioner.

  12. Neutral says:

    Why needs to fight when nobody is solving the root of the problem. Be it red or yellow, a democratic nation cannot exist if there are no opposition. Let the disparity persist but in a HEALTHY manner.

    In fact, I believe that the Thai democratic system has every potential to reach perfection. This goal will NOT be brought about by whether the reds or the government did the right thing.

    The current political system has done every thing right, except for ONE problem. If they could rid that one single problem, then full democracy should take place without the need for any changes to the existing system. (apart from some minor tweaking)

    I am referring to the external influence that can shaped the political decision that was argued in parliament. The parliament comprises of the people’s elected elements (be it red or yellow or neutral). When an issue is being brought up by the general public, the MP will take them to parliament and fight it out among the members. This kinda fighting is definitely non-fatal as compared to the recent fights between govt forces and the reds.

    The problem now is such that outside forces (who are not elected by the people) seems to have a hand in the decision making process in parliament. That is the exact problem. There should be no external influence to the parliamentary decision at all cost.

    In short, the military, the elites and whoever is out there MUST be de-powered in order for the existing political system to run effectively and efficiently. This i believe … is mission impossible.

  13. food for thought says:

    Lots of self opinionated wanna be heroes tweeting pats on the back to each other and over the top dramatic messages – forgetting all along that this is not their country -a few smart and practical tweets in between but not many and one should remind the likes of Florian that only fools get shot in such situations and what happened makes you like another glory seeking young fool which is how your blogs read – Too many false heroes (CNN has a lot to answer for) and now they are all “experts “ in conflict – leave it with the Thais please – its their problem and let them resolve it – Also noticed amongst the regular tweeters as how many of them turned on the Reds once things got a bit more violent and many became army lovers overnight – Mr. Aviator (did he paint his face blue before he went a wandering) included – seen too many movies that naïve lad… – always remember – an unelected PM ordered the people of his nation to be murdered……..nuff said – however to Richard Barrow = excellent

  14. Josh says:

    If you’d like to know whats going on in Thailand, I’d recommend the following articles. The first one is by Prof. Duncan McCargo, a highly respected scholar on Thailand affairs.



  15. USA_MAN says:

    Tyrants will persist until crushed by the people. We (America) had to suffer two wars – against the British and the Civil War before we had a viable democracy. France had to suffer from the French Revolution before they could have democracy, the story (sadly) renains the same with an all-too-familiar theme. The tyrants along with their supporters will say and do anything to keep power.

    I feel so sad for Thailand, and for the Thai people. I have been visiting Thailand for many years now and hope to continue doing so. Any American who visits can see that political corruption and oppression is rife in Thailand today. Is it any wonder that the Thai people have had enough?

  16. Cody says:

    Powerful journalism Andrew, thank you so much for risking yourself to bring us the details of the months-long standoff. It’s definitely a sad sight to see fighting and death in the streets, and hard to know that this unrest will continue until the underlying issues are resolved, but your stories bring light to why they fight… thanks.

    FYI, my thoughts a month after the violence in Bangkok: http://www.thrillingheroics.com/real-world-dodging-bullets-revolution-bangkok-violence

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