Thursday, May 13, 2010


Profile: Thailand's 'Commander Red'

Khattiya Sawasdipol tests a red-shirt guard's shield in Bangkok, 11 May
Khattiya Sawasdipol was offering security advice to red-shirts this week

Khattiya Sawasdipol, the renegade Thai general better known as Seh Daeng (Commander Red), sees himself as "security adviser" to the country's red-shirt opposition movement.
He could be found training activists on the streets of central Bangkok just days before he was shot and seriously wounded on 13 May.
A loyal supporter of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, he is allied to the more radical wing of the broad protest movement but has frequently been disowned by the more political leaders, the BBC's Rachel Harvey reports from the Thai capital.
Comparing himself this week to the Mel Gibson warrior character in the epic Hollywood film Braveheart, he nonetheless denied being involved in anti-government violence, saying he was concentrating on checking the protesters' street barricades.
Photographs showed him in camouflage gear using a bamboo stick to teach red-shirt guards the correct distance to maintain between each other while on patrol, and to hit one guard's home-made shield in order to test its durability.
Guards could be seen kneeling before the general, who enjoys cult status among some opposition supporters.
Aged 58, he has been suspended from duty in the Thai army, where he has the rank of major-general, since January.
An army source told the Bangkok Post on 8 May that he had subsequently been found guilty by a defence ministry panel of "repeatedly defying orders from his superiors to not get involved in political movements, particularly with the red-shirts".
'A warrior like me'
Speaking before troops moved against the protesters' sprawling camp in a Bangkok shopping district, Seh Daeng told AFP news agency he was "always controlling the security".
Khattiya Sawasdipol speaks to AFP news agency in Bangkok, 11 May
 Do you know the Braveheart movie? Mel Gibson is the same as me 
Seh Daeng
"We want to check to make sure there are no weapons around and no-one comes to attack us," he said. "It's important that I'm here. Everyone is here because Seh Daeng is here."
He rejected accusations of involvement in the numerous mysterious grenade attacks plaguing the Thai capital since the mass protests began in March.
"People kept screaming my name but I had nothing to do with it," he told Reuters in another interview.
"I have no guns but there may be others who want to help. Not just help the protesters, they want to help the country, but I don't know who they are."
He told AFP that his fall-out with commanders went back to 2008 when he publicly criticised the head of the army and was reassigned to lead aerobics classes at a local market.
"Everybody laughed at me," he said. "You don't assign a warrior like me to do a stupid thing like that. Do you know the Braveheart movie? Mel Gibson is the same as me."
If Seh Daeng has antagonised the Thai military leadership, he has also been at odds with leaders of the opposition movement itself.
Days before he was shot, he accused the movement's current leaders of "colluding with the government".

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