Secession talk leaves red-shirt movement vulnerable to clampdown

national March 07, 2014 00:00

By Supon Thanukid
The Nation

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It took the red shirts a long time to mobilise people in support of the government, with the anti-government protest starting four months ago.

The mobilisation came after the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), led by Suthep Thaugsuban, had led a sustained attack against the government.
Red-shirt leaders remain the same, including Jatuporn Promphan, Nuttawut Saikuar, Thida Thavonseth, Weng Tojirakarn and Veerakarn Musigapong. The areas of mobilisation are in the North and the Northeast. 
The red shirts have rallied in the so-called red-shirt capital, Udon Thani, and then in Kalasin, Maha Sarakham and Khon Kaen. 
This week, the mobilisation will take place in the northern provinces and will convene in Chiang Mai.
However, the ghost from the first convention on February 23 in Nakhon Ratchasima still haunts the red shirts. 
That is when it was announced that 200,000 men could be recruited “to protect democracy” and be ready to come to Bangkok any time.
Then there was caretaker Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan’s comment that people should be aware that there are at least 10 million guns in the hands of Thais and these people cannot be insulted.
These comments have stunned many people.
But the idea floated by red-shirt leaders that the North could secede from the rest of the country has been amplified and taken seriously by many people. 
After the military said secession talk would result in serious charges being laid, the leaders denied partition was seriously discussed.
Rak Chiang Mai 51 leader Petchawat Wattanapongsirikul firstly admitted it had been discussed, before saying the talk centred on the Assembly for the Defence of Democracy Lanna, which would fight for democracy, and not the partitioned state the People’s Democratic Republic of Lanna. 
But the fact remains that banners calling for a separate state have been erected in many public locations in northern provinces. 
Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha told his younger brother Lt-General Preecha, the commander of the Third Region Army, to file complaints with police against people promoting the secession movement and people were warned that the offence could result in a death sentence or life imprisonment. 
That resulted in a banner with a pro-secession message and bearing the name of Pathum Thani-based red shirt leader Wuthipong Kotthammakhun, aka Ko Tee, being erected in Bangkok’s Don Muang district on Wednesday.
Wuthipong said the banner was a reaction to injustice in society.
The anti-government camp did not let the opportunity to weigh into the issue slip away. 
Suthep accused caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and government agencies of negligence in their response to the secessionist movement.
Yingluck said: “If there will be any investigation into this matter, I’d like the investigation to be done with all parties. I don’t want to be doubted or accused of selective conduct.”
It seemed she did not want to offend anyone, but her position means she has to be decisive.
Instead of devising ways to beat
the PDRC, the red shirts opened themselves up for attack just by floating an idea. 

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