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CULTURE SPHERE

Hope thailand doesn't see an ending like 'Hotel Rwanda'


The news on Thursday night - when five grenades were launched into Silom, killing one and injuring dozens others - was depressing to say the least.

It was like watching a film on civil war, as scenes of the April 10 bloodshed at Khok Wua intersection kept popping up in my head. Unfortunately, the events of April 10 and April 22 are not tragic scenes from a movie, but a new reality in the Land of Smiles.

Where are those smiles that the Thais are so famous for? Nowadays, conflicts are not just on the streets, but also in homes and offices.

However, the conflict on Thursday night in Silom was different. Ordinary Thais were fighting other ordinary Thais. The red-shirt protesters and their opponents, the multicoloured shirts, were pelting each other with whatever they could find on the streets.

Meanwhile, the red shirts have barricaded off Rajprasong intersection - their rally site for a month now - and there are rumours that there are gas tanks, rifles and M79 grenade launchers waiting to be used.

This peace-loving Buddhist country is now suffering from fear, violence and hatred, which could easily lead to civil war.

Many organisations are trying to convince leaders of the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to think about the country and try and negotiate a resolution.

With a new party - the multicoloured shirts - now joining the conflict, 16 organisations were planning to screen the award-winning film "Hotel Rwanda" at Hua Lamphong Railway Station to warn Thais about the threat of civil war. However, the screening had to be cancelled not just because of Thursday night's clashes but also because the State Railway of Thailand said they had never been asked for permission.

Still, some 30 members of the organisations gathered at the station yesterday to warn commuters about the threat of things getting out of hand. They kept encouraging people to go home and watch "Hotel Rwanda" and try and prevent the same happening to their much-beloved country.

Directed by Terry George, "Hotel Rwanda" is about hotelier Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle) during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when at least half a million people were killed in conflicts between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. Called the "Schindler's List" of Africa, the movie shows how media played a key role in the genocide. The drama portrays Rusesabagina, who saves the lives of his family and more than a thousand other refugees, by granting them shelter in his hotel.

The film is about a conflict between two tribes. In Thailand though, the conflict concerns many tribes - the politicians, the grassroots people, the middle class, the elite, soldiers, policemen and academics. The Thai society is very ill, and the problems are too complicated.

Unlike in the film, many academics earlier thought that Thailand's case was not important enough for the United Nations to pay notice. On Thursday the red shirts submitted letters to the UN office in Bangkok, asking the agency to look into the April 10 clashes and send a peacekeeping force. However, the scene was completely different on Thursday night when violence again reared its head. Things remained tense on Friday evening when thousands of multicoloured shirts gathered in front of Royal Plaza in the Dusit area.

Finally, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday expressed concern over the stand-off and the potential of it escalating. Through spokesman Martin Nesirky, the UN chief appealed with both sides to avoid further violence and loss of life, and work to resolve the situation peacefully.

"This is a moment that requires restraint on all sides," he said.

However, tension is mounting in the City of Angels as many groups emerge to confront the red-shirt protesters, who have been dealing with government troops for days in the business and tourist centres of Rajprasong and Silom.

When asked about the letters from the red-shirt movement, Nesirky confirmed that two letters were indeed delivered by protesters to the UN offices in Bangkok on Thursday, but added that the UN had no immediate response.

Yet, there is an immediate response from other countries, including the US and the United Kingdom, who have been warning their citizens to avoid Bangkok and stay away from areas of conflict such as Rajprasong, Silom and the Democracy monument. From Washington to London, governments have also joined the UN in urging all sides to show restraint, as riot-police stand ready for a face-off with thousands of protesters waiting behind their heavily fortified barricades.

The rest of us, meanwhile, pray that Thailand doesn't encounter a tragic ending like "Hotel Rwanda" and that the red-shirt leaders and the government can jointly co-direct a happier conclusion.




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