COMRADES-IN-ARMS: Their war gone by

Published on January 12, 2006

Once the communists built stupas to remember fallen comrades. Today it’s buildings with a tourism bent

The five-pointed red stars adorning their caps were perhaps the only visible sign that those attending the gathering were former members of the now-defunct Communist Party of Thailand (CPT).

The once-feared former comrades reunited last month for the opening ceremony of the People’s History Building and the Lawa-Hmong Phu Payak Museum in Chaloem Phrakiat district, Nan province.

On the surface it looked like any run-of-the-mill public gathering, with local residents joining government officials and an important figure – Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont – presiding over the ceremony.

Taking a closer look, however, it turned out that most of the 2,000 people mustered wore caps bearing the red star, even their vehicles carried the symbol.

The red star was the symbol of the CPT, and the event was held to commemorate the war between its members and government forces during the 1970s and 80s, and to honour those who died fighting. Another primary motivation for the gathering was promoting development in the village of Tambon Khun Nan, which lies in an underdeveloped region.

Unlike other CPT memorials, the new shrines are not stupas, but a multi-purpose building and a museum.

Inscribed on the exterior of the multi-purpose building are the names of those who died in the conflict and a potted history of the armed struggle. The museum contains exhibits documenting the history of the local people – the Lawa and Hmong tribes.

“We asked ourselves how we could build memorials that would be used more than once a year. How could we get sustainable use out of them? How could we get people to visit the place continually? And how could this be used to inspire unity and sustainable development,” said Yingkiat Laosrisakdakul, the event’s host.

Funds for the buildings came from the government and private sector: Bt3 million and Bt1.3 million, respectively, he said.

The buildings are surrounded by beautiful scenery near the former CPT base, and the former site of the National Student Centre of Thailand. So it seemed logical that the place should be developed into a sustainable tourism attraction, said Yingkiat.

“We hope local people will be able to develop the site into a sustainable tourism destination, with footpaths to lookouts, space to pitch tents and a commercial area, where shops can sell food and souvenirs,” he said.

One reason Surayud was invited to preside over the ceremony is that he is a son of Lt-Colonel Payom Chulanont, also known as “Uncle Kamtan”, a key member of the CPT based in Nan, the party’s former stronghold.

Addressing the event, Surayud said he was glad to see unity among the hosts. It is a good sign that people can live together without having to pick up weapons and fight as in the past, he said.

“Only love and unity can create more equality in society. I cannot assert that we must have a [wholly] equal society, but I want to see a society with a minimum of inequality,” he said.

Surayud seemed familiar with the former CPT members. Many shook hands with him, and some took photos with the privy councillor. He patiently waited for one man to change his camera battery before posing for a photo with him. After the event, Surayud went to talk to local children who study at a school founded in Ayutthaya, particularly for children of hill-tribe people who were members of the CPT and who had come home to join the ceremony.

“Be diligent, and I will find money for scholarships for you. Then you can come back and develop this area,” he told the children.

Surayud also visited the former CPT base where his father once lived. As a son of Uncle Kamtan, he said, it gave him pleasure to promote development in the area and help it gain prosperity.

The ceremony was held on December 11, but people began arriving the day before. By the evening of December 10, the place was bustling and there was barely room left to pitch a tent.

The atmosphere, however, was one of laughter and smiles . . . and everyone welcomed the freezing mountain winds that kept them huddled by campfires.

Families that had lived together in the mountains during the dark years of war still clustered together, but these days they’re not considered enemies of the state.

From dusk until dawn, the former comrades gathered and talked, some walked, while others shouted out in search of long-lost brothers-in-arms.

This wasn’t the first and probably won’t be the last meeting of former CPT members who once stood against the government, but most agreed it was one of the biggest events they had ever organised.

Somroutai Sapsomboon

The Nation

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Reflections of a spent military force

{{This is the biggest ceremony for us. I can’t recognise some people becauseI haven’t seen them since we left the forest 20 years ago.||

Former comrade Khwan

51-year-old from Bangkok

{{This ceremony differs from the others in the past, when we always built stupas. However I agree with the idea, because it’s

useful for the locals.||

Former comrade Dong

81-year-old from Nonthaburi

{{I’m very glad and very happy to meet my old friends who have the same attitude.||

Former comrade Nid

61-year-old from Surat Thani

{{I did not sleep for two nights. I was so excited about coming back to this place because I lost my right leg during fighting here.||

Former comrade Khemthong

49-year-old from Nakhon Pathom

{{My parents were CPT members, I’m here because of my faith in the group.||

Wanna Kittithanakul

20-year-old from Nan


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