Sunday, September 20, 2009

PAD protest ends in bloodshed


Published: 20/09/2009

SI SA KET : Dozens of protesters, police and villagers were injured in fiery clashes near the border with Cambodia yesterday as a protest by the People's Alliance for Democracy spun out of control.

The government declared martial law as PAD supporters, in a protest over sovereignty, met unexpected resistance from hundreds of Si Sa Ket villagers who blocked their path.

The PAD was trying to march to a disputed border area close to Preah Vihear temple. Stick-wielding protesters clashed repeatedly with riot police and villagers who were trying to keep them out.

Nearby, soldiers set up barricades to stop the PAD reaching the border area disputed with Cambodia.

They reinforced the Khao Phra Viharn national park office in Kantharalak district of Si Sa Ket.

But the government was forced to declare martial law after protesters were able to break through barricades to reach the military-controlled area.

The clashes between PAD protesters and villagers left scores of people on both sides injured, including two people in a critical condition.

Sert Piewkhao, 26, a local villager, was shot in the neck while PAD supporter Promsak Ritkraikul, 44, was hit in the eye by slingshots.

To ease the crisis, the government agreed to let 76 PAD representatives read aloud a prepared statement today at Pha Mor E Daeng, which is close to the disputed area.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said giving the PAD its say could help restore peace. Anyone who broke the law at the gathering would be punished, he said.

The government's concession capped a day of drama which started when PAD member Veera Somkwamkid and Charoen Muphankhachorn led about 2,000 supporters on a protest to assert Thai sovereignty over disputed territory near Preah Vihear temple.

They planned to march to the temple entrance to protest against Cambodia's decision to build new houses in a nearby 4.6 square kilometre area not settled by the two countries. The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962.

Accompanied by so-called PAD guards, the demonstrators arrived in the province in cars, buses and vans. They were stopped by hundreds of villagers at Ban Phumsarol in Kantharalak district.

The residents blockaded the road to the park near the temple. Crowd control riot police in full gear were on standby.

Residents opposed the PAD protest, fearing it would aggravate the border situation and harm their livelihood.

"They [PAD protesters] are here for just a couple of days. But we and the Cambodian people are here for life so we do not want any complications.

"The temple dispute has been going for years. Why protest now?" said Boonreum Khobutr, a village head.

Si Sa Ket governor Rapi Pongbuppakij and Si Sa Ket deputy police chief Amnuay Mahapol asked both sides to back off, but to no avail.

After hours of trading insults, clashes broke out about 1.20pm. Slingshots, wooden stakes, rocks and blades were used as weapons.

The PAD guards broke through the barricades, taking protesters to a forest fire control station where they were prepared to spend the night.

Mr Veera and Suranaree Task Force commander Maj-Gen Chavalit Choonhasarn held talks for two hours after which the protesters retreated to the Sisa Asoke Buddhist community, which is a branch of Santi Asoke with close affiliations to the PAD.

Speaking while the negotiations were underway, Second Army Region commander Lt Gen Wibulsak Neepal said the army could not guarantee the safety of protesters.

He had proposed to army commander Anupong Paojinda that a group of 20 PAD representatives be allowed to enter the restricted area to make a declaration.

"The army chief has agreed. The PAD demonstrators have to leave the area as soon as they finish reading their statement," he said.

PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang yesterday distanced all five PAD leaders from the Preah Vihear campaign.

"Mr Veera is leading the campaign so any talks should be conducted with him," he said after the clashes.

Earlier, Gen Anupong said he doubted the PAD's campaign to enter the restricted area would do any good to themselves or the country.

"They will put themselves in danger if they sneak into areas which are not yet clear of landmines. And if they are arrested, Cambodia will accuse us of encroachment," he said.

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