Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why the silence over Bangkok’s daily grenade attacks?

The security situation is worsening in Bangkok; how much longer before people are killed?

Daily bomb or grenade attacks in Bangkok have now become the norm rather than the exception. On Tuesday, an explosive was thrown into a building on U-Thong Nok Road that houses the Foundation of statesman General Prem Tinsulanonda, the president of the Privy Council. The foundation is about 500 metres from Prem's official residence. The explosion damaged some tree jars in front of the building.

Pro-Thaksin red-shirt protesters have criticised Prem for being behind the ousting of Thaksin.

Since February 27, there have been more than 30 violent incidents involving bomb attacks in Bangkok and upcountry, with suspected political motivations. The situation looks as if it could develop like the violence in the Deep South, where guerrilla ambushes and bombings have become a routine occurrence, with the death toll rising daily.

It is sad that most Thais are now treating the bomb attacks as if they are business as usual. The police and the authorities have not been able to trace the culprits, their investigations leading nowhere so far. Normally the Thai police are quick in resolving such matters. But this time, they act as if nothing in the world is happening. If the violence continues, law and order could soon break down. Bangkok could become like the deep South.

Absent from the two rounds of talks between Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and representatives of the red shirts was a serious discussion about the bomb attacks, which are escalating the level of political violence.
Both sides have good ideas about who the masterminds behind the bomb attacks are. But they wore poker faces and concealed their thoughts as if the attacks did not matter or were not a factor at all.

Yet these attacks, instigated by invisible hands, have been the catalyst in forcing Abhisit to come to the negotiating table. For Bangkok Bank, it is more worrisome. Several of the bank's branches have been shot at. It is widely known that General Prem is the honorary chairman of Bangkok Bank. If the attacks continue, the bank's business will be hurt. Financial stability is also national security. But the bank's executives have also kept their silence, fearing that any comment might incite further hatred from the instigators.

It seems that most of the attacks so far have not aimed at taking lives. They are meant as a threat, a political message or signal. But it was not until yesterday that the government began to react. Suthep Thaugsuban, the deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs, said the bombings are the work of old soldiers and police officers. There are three groups among them. The first group use M70 grenade launders and rocket propelled grenades. The targets are government agencies, military premises and TV stations. The second group relies on guns or explosives. The third group uses giant firecrackers or tiny bombs to create turmoil, without aiming for life.

With two rounds of negotiations so far completed, Abhisit has made it clear that he is ready to dissolve Parliament in nine months. The red shirts' position is more hardline. They want Abhisit to dissolve Parliament in 15 days. There remains a big gap to bridge between the two sides.

Suthep has drawn up a roadmap for the Abhisit government to dissolve Parliament in the nine-month timeframe. This is the most the Democrats can offer at this juncture.
The red shirts' response is likely to be muted. Abhisit said in Bahrain that he would be willing to hold a third round of talks with the red shirts to end the political impasse. The red shirts have vowed to rally more supporters this Saturday as they shift into high gear to overthrow the Abhisit government.

In the meantime, we can expect to witness more violence as political interests do not fall into place. Sadly, few Thai commentators have come out to condemn the attacks. Most prefer to play it safe.

We should not allow this kind of violent threat to silence us or curb our expression of what is right and what is wrong. Editorial, The Nation, Bangkok

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