December 2, 2008: The Supreme Court dissolved the ruling People’s Power Party due to “election irregularities.” Its coalition partners joined with the Democrat Party to form the government.
December 17: Abhisit Vejjajiva named prime minister of Thailand.
April 8, 2009: Members of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorships (UDD) began their protests in Bangkok. They were otherwise known as the red shirts, as was the color of their movement.
April 11: A large group of UDD members broke through the Asean Summit building in Pattaya. ASEAN delegates escaped. The summit was cancelled.
April 14: In Bangkok, faced with the military in full combat gears, UDD leaders called for an end to the protests and turned themselves in.
February 26, 2010: The Supreme Court ordered the seizure of Thaksin Shinawatra’s frozen assets worth 76 billion baht.
March 14: An estimated 100,000 UDD members convened in Bangkok. They occupied the Ratchaprasong commercial district and made it their headquarters for protest activities.
Their demand? An election. Return power to the people.
Over a two-month long period, the UDD launched protests around Bangkok. There were several clashes between protestors and security forces.
April 23: The UDD offered to end the protests on conditions that the government dissolve parliament within 30 days and hold an immediate election.
The offer was rejected.
May 3: The government offered to dissolve parliament in September and hold an election on November 14, on conditions that the protests must end and leaders turned themselves in.
The offer was rejected.
May 12: The government rescinded the offer.
May 19: Government troops cracked down on the protestors. Six UDD members who took refuge inside Wat Pathum Wanaram were shot dead.
The protests came to an end.
During the two-month period, some 35 buildings were burned down. An estimated nearly one hundred civilians were killed, including UDD members, by-standers, journalists and medical staff.
Nine soldiers and two policemen were also killed.
A full list of those killed is published in the Thai Wikipedia page “การชุมนุมของแนวร่วมประชาธิปไตยต่อต้านเผด็จการแห่งชาติ พ.ศ. 2553”.
In 2010, I lived on Wireless Road, within the UDD occupation zone.
The main occupation zone stretched from the Siam area down to Ploenchit, from Satorn to Petchburi.
The nucleus was in the middle Ratchaprasong Intersection. On four corners stood CentralWorld, Gaysorn, Erawan and the Royal Thai Police Headquarters. The latter was sealed off. Police inside. Protestors outside.
Each night, I went to bed to the sounds of sniper bullets and sporadic explosions from grenade launchers, while most residents in the area had moved out and all businesses closed down, including the embassies.
Each day, I walked through military barricades that were set up where Ploenchit meets Sukhumvit, to get to work. After work, sometimes I would hang out with the red shirts. Eating the same foods. Listening to the same speeches. Hanging out. Chatting about life and politics. Becoming Facebook friends.
I came to appreciate the demands of many of the protestors. They wanted justice. They wanted an election. They wanted democracy. They wanted an end to double standard. Many of these protestors were rice farmers from the North and Northeast. Many were also provincial middle class. As well, many were Bangkok working and middle classes.
At the same time, I listened to the leaders on the stage. Some spoke of equality and democracy. Others spoke in anger and of violence.
All were fine during the day. But at night, everyone warned, do not go there at night.
Which of course meant, I had to go.
One night, convincing a motorbike taxi in front of my building, I said, “Bro, I’ll give you a hundred baht, let’s go.”
After a few thoughtful seconds, he replied, “Okay, but put on this helmet, or you might get shot in the head.”
Slowly and cautiously, we rode down “no man’s land,” which was the area from Ruamrudee Road up through Central Chidlom. Pitched dark. Sounds of bullets. Perhaps one or two shots fired every couple of minutes.
Who was shooting? Ask the soldiers, it’s the red militants. Ask the red shirts, it’s the military.
Up nearer to Gaysorn, you see the lights and hear the sounds of a city within a city come alive.
But before getting in, there were red-shirt barricades, guarded by men with clubs and swords.
I was a familiar enough face. So they let me through.
On Ratchadamri Road, the area around the Four Seasons Hotel (which is now Anantara Siam), was turned into shower facilities and lavatories.
In the middle of the Ratchaprasong Intersection was the stage. Behind the stage was a tent where the leaders gathered. All around, UDD barricades defended the occupation zone.
Nighttime inside the occupation zone was alive with activities.
There’s a foot massage corner. There’s a computer game corner full of kids. Foods were everywhere, and wherever you walk, an auntie or an uncle would wave you over, “Have you eaten? Here, have some food.”
Ever since then, I have always said, the best food in Bangkok is protest food.
On the stage, the singing, dancing and activities would put any temple fares to shame.
When I spoke to people, they were full of passion and sincerity.
“We just want an election.” “We just want justice.” “We want to end the double standard.” “We want democracy.”
But not everyone spoke in the same way.
Later on in the night, I found a group who said they would burn everything down if the government doesn’t comply.
On January 29, UDD leader Arisman Pongruangrong announced that if government troops attempt to disperse the protests, everyone should grab a bottle, fill it with gasoline and burn.
“Burn it, I’ll take the responsibility,” said UDD leader Nuttawut Sai-kua on April 3.
On the same day, UDD leader Jatuporn Prompan told red shirts in the provinces, “Wait until the crackdown, then do it.”
While speaking to another group of red shirts, explosions were heard.
One man drove in on a motorbike to announce, they had shot grenade launchers into Lumpini Park where some soldiers were stationed.
Before midnight, I decided to leave.
I headed to where I came in, the Chidlom “no man’s land.”
“No brother, you can’t,” one UDD guard told me. “Snipers are everywhere.”
Staring into the darkness, I said thank you, and made for the Ratchadamri exit. The UDD guards there also asked me to go another way, snipers were everywhere. So I walked up towards the Siam area and Mahboonkrong Center.
On the way, I was joined by a couple of foreign journalists also looking for a way out. I said, “Dudes, come with me. I speak Thai.” That was good enough for them.
Unlike Chidlom and Ratchadamri, the barricades here were lighter and the guards seemed more relaxed. They still warned us that it’s safer to stay inside, but we went through the barricades anyway.
In front of Mahboonkrong, with a group of soldiers staring at us, we hopped on motorbike taxis. The foreign journalists look foreign, I’m a Thai who doesn’t look Thai, so the soldiers let us be, no suspicions here.
The way home took me on a big loop. Through Phaholyothin Road and all the way around in order to make it back to the Sukhumvit Soi 1 military barricades, where I then hopped off and walked home to Wireless Road.
Why such a big loop?
Military barricades surrounded the entire area and sealed off all streets.
The truth is whole, not half.
The good versus evil narrative is only in movies and children stories. Human conflicts involve two opposing forces, and the truth is both sides are capable of both good and harm.
The truth is over 90 civilians were killed, from UDD members to bystanders to journalists and medical staff. The truth also is, nine soldiers and two policemen were killed.
Each person and their families deserve justice, no more and no less than others.
The truth is in this Human Right Watch article, which discussed “the military’s use of unnecessary and excessive force,” as well as “Red Shirts – including armed militants – attacked soldiers, police and civilians.”
The truth is, on April 23 the government could have ended it by agreeing to dissolve the parliament within 30 days and hold an election.
The truth is, on May 3 the UDD could have ended it by agreeing to the government’s offer to dissolve parliament in September and hold an election on November 14.
The truth is, as both sides could not agree to the peaceful solution — democracy via election — both sides should bear responsibility for the deaths and destruction.
The truth is always whole, never half.