Renegade Army General Shot In Thailand
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
A prominent figure in the Bangkok protest is on life support today after being struck in the head by a sniper's bullet: General Khattiya Sawasdiphol, also known as Seh Daeng or Red Commander. He was a fabled counterinsurgency commander, an author and TV host who broke with the Thai government and became head of security for the red-shirted protestors who have challenged, what they claim, is an illegitimate regime. They've been demonstrating in the streets of the Thai capital for more than two months now.
Seh Daeng was shot as he was being interviewed by Thomas Fuller, The New York Times correspondent in Bangkok. We reached Fuller earlier and we asked him to describe what happened today. A warning: His description was graphic.
Mr. THOMAS FULLER (Bangkok Correspondent, The New York Times): Seh Daeng was in this barricaded area and he was talking to a scrum of reporters and that winnowed down to myself and my interpreter, his people surrounding him. And I asked him a question and he got halfway through answering it, and a shot rang out - sounded like a firecracker - and he just dropped.
The bullet wound looked like it was in his forehead. His eyes were wide open and he seemed quite lifeless.
SIEGEL: How far away from you was he when he was struck by this shot?
Mr. FULLER: We were face-to-face. We were about two feet apart.
SIEGEL: Now, tell us about what his message was today. I gather that other leaders of the Red Shirts, of the protestors, have been talking to the government to reach some kind of agreement. He considers them a sellout for doing that.
Mr. FULLER: Exactly. He called the other protest leaders wimps and he wanted to continue to fight. He said this was a lot more unconventional than the usual battles he was accustomed to, but he was ready to defend his barricade. So he was in an impediment to this particular phase of the crisis being resolved and the protestors going home.
SIEGEL: I assume Seh Daeng was a well-known figure, that Thais were aware of this man. He was a famous person. Was he a central person to the protest in Bangkok?
Mr. FULLER: He's a very colorful person. He was - I think colorful is probably a euphemism. I mean he was a bit wacky. He was provocative. He was defiant. And it was a mystery to a lot of people why he couldn't be reined in. A military is not supposed to have renegade generals on the loose for as long as he was. But I don't think anyone saw him more than a mysterious, charismatic renegade soldier.
SIEGEL: If it's possible to sum up what it is that's at issue and what has these people out on the streets of the capital and what their grievance is, how do you do that? What is this all about?
Mr. FULLER: It's a contentious question to ask.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FULLER: It's a contentious question to answer in Thailand because where did this begin is almost like a Balkan question - you know, who committed the first wrong. I think it's fair to say that it started with the administration of a man named Thaksin Shinawatra. He's a billionaire tycoon who was prime minister in the early part of the last decade, for five years. And he was a very strong personality. He was very popular in rural areas and he was deposed in a coup in 2006.
There have been elections since then and Thaksin's allies won the elections but it's a more complicated story than that. They were removed through court orders, et cetera. But the protestors would nonetheless say that this government is illegitimate.
SIEGEL: But this is a worsening of the situation in Bangkok that you're describing.
Mr. FULLER: It's certainly a continuing of the situation. This all flows from Seh Daeng's - the shooting. Things could get a lot worse in Bangkok.
I'm crouching in my hotel room right now because the hotel across the street has been fired into. And unfortunately, my window in this room keeps me kind of exposed. So not ideal circumstances.
And now there have been clashes in a park right nearby and clashes right on the street below me in a main intersection. In the business district, I also heard an explosion that sounded like a grenade going off.
So yes, I think it's fair to say that things are deteriorating this evening. I don't know how bad they'll get though.
SIEGEL: Thomas Fuller of The New York Times in Bangkok, thanks so much for talking with us.
Mr. FULLER: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: And State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters today that the U.S. is watching the violence in Bangkok closely. We are very concerned, he said. In response to the unrest, the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok will be closed tomorrow.
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