- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

BANGKOK

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and three of his top ministers have been protected from what has been described as an assassination hit list since a crackdown on anti-government protesters in Bangkok.

Royalists clad in yellow shirts, who back the current government, and their revolutionary rivals, who wear red shirts and oppose the government, are hiding in safe houses or behind bodyguards amid fears that Thailand is descending into a violent morass.

“This is like the eve of a war, and we risk losing our democracy,” Mr. Abhisit told parliament earlier this week while discussing the recent turmoil in this pro-American, Southeast Asian nation that normally thrives on visits by foreign tourists.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya went further, claiming that he and at least four others were at the top of an assassination list.

“For the past 10 days, I am surrounded by about 10 fully armed marines,” Mr. Kasit said. “I belong to a very special group of Thai people led by the Thai prime minister Mr. Abhisit [and] the deputy prime minister, Mr. Suthep [Thaugsuban].”

The hit list, said the foreign minister, included the leader of the right-wing yellow-shirt movement, Sondhi Limthongkul. He was shot on April 17 in Bangkok by five unidentified gunmen hours before he was to meet the foreign minister for lunch.

Mr. Sondhi survived with a head injury, and his vehicle was riddled with assault-rifle bullet holes.

“The fourth person is myself, and I think the fifth person under an assassination attempt at the moment is the minister of finance,” Mr. Kasit told the Asia Society in New York. “So the five of us, at the moment, are protected by the security forces,” he said.

He offered no other evidence of a hit list and it is impossible to confirm the charges, especially when he places the blame on former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

“Now I think he has resorted to some sort of assassination attempt,” Mr. Kasit said, without offering any proof.

Mr. Thaksin levels similar charges against the current Thai government.

“It controls every place, it can seize and search without any warrants, and they don’t care about human rights. It’s a government that has been given the license to kill. And I have the impression that the phase of “cut-off killings” has begun - in other words, they are eliminating anyone who knows too much about the conspiracy of those in power against me,” Mr. Thaksin told the German Web site Spiegel Online.

Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and went into exile, reportedly receiving a passport from Nicaragua after Thailand recently stripped him of his travel documents.

Mr. Thaksin wants a conviction on corruption charges overturned and an end to other corruption trials against him, his family and political allies. He also seeks the return of $2 billion in assets, which the coup leaders froze.

The ousted prime minister helped lead anti-government red shirts during a violent April 11-13 insurrection, when he called on supporters in a video link to unleash a “peaceful revolution” to force a nationwide election, which he expects to win.

The riots left two people dead, and 123 injured.

“The army must not choose sides,” its commander-in-chief, Gen. Anupong Paojinda, told unit commanders earlier this week. “It cannot be red or yellow.”

Mr. Sondhi’s yellow shirts shut down Bangkok’s airports for eight days in November, stranding 300,000 people.

Mr. Abhisit punished two police officials for failing to prevent an assault by red shirts against an Asian summit venue in Pattaya on April 11, which forced the evacuation of several international leaders by helicopter.

Mr. Abhisit and his deputy prime minister for security affairs, Mr. Suthep, were trapped together in their limousine at the Interior Ministry during the insurrection on April 12.

Police stood idle while the red shirts smashed their vehicle.

Mr. Abhisit then changed his personal security to include mostly army troops, supervised by senior officers.

The government, police and army are said to include supporters of both red- and yellow-shirt groups.

Many people praised the military for forcing the surrender of thousands of red shirts on April 13 - after protesters had used firebombs, knives, rocks and clubs while blockading streets, burning buses, and threatening to ignite a tanker truck filled with liquid natural gas in central Bangkok.

After the army crushed the insurrection, three red-shirt leaders were arrested, and others disappeared, including the highly vocal Jakrapob Penkair, who was said to have fled Thailand.

“I am now in hiding, with protection” against arrest, said Sean Boonpracong, a spokesman for the red shirts’ United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, in an interview.

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