- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2010

BANGKOK | Thailand’s military-backed government has frozen the bank accounts of wealthy suspected supporters of protesters for democracy, whose two-month-long encampment in downtown Bangkok ended in a deadly clash with authorities in May.

More than 80 prominent Thais — including politicians and former military officers — were named publicly in a government-issued financial blacklist that noted how much money they had withdrawn from their accounts before and during the protests. Businesses were named, too.

Officials demanded explanations for the transactions, which equate to hundreds of millions of dollars, and said the cash enabled thousands of protesters to survive behind barricades in the heart of Bangkok.

The government froze the accounts amid speculation that the protesters, known as the Red Shirts, are plotting revenge for the military raid that crushed their bamboo barricades and for the 90 people left dead in weeks of clashes between protesters and the army.

“I insist that the government has never intended to persecute anyone,” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Sunday after freezing the accounts.

“I still believe that there are attempts to financially support [the Red Shirts] by a network of supporters,” he added.

Featured on the blacklist is the former wife of Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former prime minister who was toppled in a bloodless coup in 2006 and subsequently convicted in absentia of corruption.

According to the blacklist:

• Pojaman Damapong, Thaksin’s former wife, withdrew 54 million baht ($1.6 million) between September and May.

• Thaksin’s and Mrs. Pojaman’s son, Panthongtae Shinawatra, and their unmarried daughter Pinthongta Shinawatra withdrew a combined total of nearly 11 billion baht ($330 million).

The blacklist notes withdrawals by more than a dozen politicians who are perceived as having supported Thaksin. Among them, the largest appear to have been made by Sudarat Keyuraphan, a former executive of Thaksin’s political party.

The blacklist also identifies seven Red Shirt leaders who deposited large sums of money into their own accounts between September and May, but it says the information about the deposits is “not available.” Three of those Red Shirt leaders were very outspoken during the protests: Veera Musikhapong, Kwanchai Praipana and Weng Tojirakarn.

In addition, the blacklist includes several former police and military officers, as well as 13 companies, such as SC Office Plaza Co. Ltd., OAI Marketing Co. Ltd. and New Oak Co. Ltd.

In publicizing the blacklist, the government revealed no evidence linking any individual’s withdrawals to another person’s deposits and offered no paper trail showing how the withdrawals were used.

The blacklist is the same as an earlier list of people and businesses the government is investigating for links to Red Shirts and terrorists.

Mr. Abhisit, the prime minister, has promised to put Red Shirt leaders and activists on trial as “terrorists,” which could result in death sentences or lengthy imprisonment.

The anti-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) is popularly known as the Red Shirts because of the protesters’ favored clothing.

Critics of Mr. Abhisit’s crackdown said the government is exaggerating the Red Shirts’ actions in an attempt to dodge responsibility for the 90 people — 79 of them civilians — who were killed during clashes between protesters and the army, which injured 1,800 others.

The Red Shirts have demanded that Mr. Abhisit and other top government leaders be put on trial for murder because they allowed the army to use assault rifles, armored personnel carriers and other weapons against protesters.

The government said that while most of the thousands of Red Shirts were relatively peaceful, a secretive unidentified group among their supporters used rifles and grenades against the military, prompting the army to deploy thousands of troops and use force in self-defense.

Comparing Thailand’s worst political uprising to Northern Ireland’s “Bloody Sunday” killings, the anti-Red Shirt, English-language Bangkok Post reported Sunday: “The two events are dissimilar in many ways, but as in Belfast in 1972, there is little doubt that at least some of the recent casualties in Bangkok were also innocent ystanders.”

A forum at Bangkok’s prestigious Thammasat University on Saturday accused the army of using excessive force against the Red Shirts, and said the government committed human rights abuses.

“What the state has done is in violation of the United Nations’ principles on human rights,” Kritaya Archavanitkul, a demographer with the Institute for Population and Social Research at Mahidol University, said at the forum.

“The state has used the term ‘terrorism’ to clean the dirt it is hiding,” she said.

The Red Shirts have widespread support in Thailand’s north and northeast, and among the urban poor in Bangkok and other cities.

Mr. Abhisit earlier had indicated a willingness to hold nationwide elections later this year, but he canceled that offer after destroying the barricades and crushing the Red Shirts’ demonstration.

According to the constitution, he must hold elections before the end of 2011.

The frozen accounts may make it difficult for the Red Shirts’ preferred Puea Thai party to organize and campaign.

The immediate focus of the blacklist, however, appeared to be an attempt to link those names to the Red Shirts’ illegal barricading of central Bangkok and to take action against anyone found guilty of funding the siege.

“This is clearly a double standard,” said prominent Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, who is not on the list and has immunity from prosecution because he is a member of parliament in the Puea Thai party.

Mr. Jatuporn said the government should also freeze the accounts of people who earlier led and supported rival Yellow Shirt protests against Thaksin and his candidates.

Those Yellow Shirts’ protests began in February 2006 and culminated in blockading Bangkok’s two international airports in November 2008, stranding more than 300,000 passengers worldwide.

“Why don’t you reveal the sponsors of that alliance?” Mr. Jatuporn said. “That protest was more than three times longer than that of the Red Shirt people.”

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