- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 11, 2010

BANGKOK | To prevent another urban insurrection, dozens of surveillance cameras will monitor the streets where 90 people, mostly civilians, died and 1,400 were injured when the military battled Red Shirt protesters in April and May.

Thailand's military-backed government is exercising surveillance, imprisonment, censorship and other “state of emergency” powers across much of this Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian nation.

And members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), commonly known as the Red Shirts for their distinctive colored clothing, say they are struggling to stay alive.

“Basically, we as an organization, we do not exist,” said Sean Boonpracong, the UDD’s international spokesman.

“What we are trying to do is trying to survive. There are 820 warrants for arrest, for Red leaders nationwide. I think just slightly over one-third have been arrested,” Mr. Boonpracong, 60, said in an interview.

On Tuesday, the Thai government extended its state of emergency on about 25 percent of the country, including Bangkok, by three months. The state of emergency was first implemented on April 7. Authorities continue to seize Red leaders and other suspects on charges of terrorism and other crimes.

The International Crisis Group, a Belgian-based group that seeks nonviolent resolution, criticized the terrorism charges against the pro-democracy protesters, many of whom supported convicted fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra, the popularly elected prime minister until the U.S.-trained military toppled him in a 2006 bloodless coup.

“The government’s use of terrorism charges to go after Red Shirt leaders, as well as Thaksin, is inappropriate for what was mostly a peaceful political movement that did not target civilians,” the group said in a statement last week.

In its statement, the International Crisis Group noted that Thailand’s “draconian” emergency decree also conveniently “grants officials immunity from prosecution.”

Mr. Boonpracong said that military authorities interrogated him for six hours at the army’s headquarters in Bangkok, seeking information about the Red Shirt movement and his involvement in it.

He said the army does not want the Reds to spur a domestic or international tribunal to investigate the government and military for its use of armored personnel carriers, assault rifles and other weapons to crush the insurrection that ultimately ended on May 19.

“I think the army is trying to intimidate us, to not form what we call ‘this hearing,’ for the deaths and the wounded,” he said.

For Thais and foreigners not directly involved in the Reds’ uprising, life is relatively normal, though some sectors of the economy took a severe hit. Canceled flights and low hotel occupancy have hobbled the tourism industry and slowed business in related areas such as restaurants, transportation and handicrafts.

Real estate speculation and fresh foreign investment also have sagged, prompting Thailand’s regional rivals — Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia — to woo international investors looking for a safer haven.

Meanwhile, Thai and foreign media have been lashed by complaints from both sides: Government officials gripe that too soft an approach is given to the Reds, while the protesters claim the government’s expensive, international public relations campaign is demonizing their struggle.

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