Note: the article was written in Thai and first published on Prachatai on December 3, 2013.
Translated by Tyrell Haberkorn
On Saturday, 30 November 2013, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), the largest official Red Shirt organization, held a rally at Rajamangala Stadium near Ramkhamhaeng University. The demonstration was intended to be in support of the elected Pheu Thai government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and in response to the then-ongoing protests against the government led by Suthep Thaugsuban, former Democrat MP and former Deputy PM under Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was recently indicted for premeditated murder for his role in the April-May 2010 crackdown on the Red Shirt protests. That evening, violence broke out near the university.
What is known about the events
of the evening of 30 November is that 4 people died, 1 Ramkhamhaeng University student and 3 Red Shirts, and many people were injured. But the precise nature of the violence and the actors involved (both on the streets and at the level of direction) remains obscured. Against the lack of clarity, the eyewitness account below was published yesterday in Thai [“บันทึก 30 พ.ย.2556 ‘สมรภูมิรามคำแหง’”
]. I chose to translate it because I see it as an interruption of the lack of clarity about this incident — this lack of clarity is at once political and a constituent component of violence.
A Record of 30 November 2013: “The Ramkhamhaeng Victory”
Dek Yuak Yen
The trend towards violence began to brew early in the evening. I arrived at Ramkhamhaeng at around 6 pm (in order to watch my partner who was reporting in the area). I walked down Ramkhamhaeng Road to the area in front of the university where there was low-level fighting. The area was filled with small groups of protestors — I do not know for certain which groups they were part of (but by appearance they had whistles on flag ribbons and flag wristlets). They had closed the road from Wat Thep Lila Intersection and inspected each car that passed.
If a car or motorcycle with passengers wearing red symbols passed, this group would swarm around them and boo or pull them off. If a motorcycle driver was wearing a red shirt, he would be surrounded and his shirt taken off and burned. I saw this happen 4-5 times. If an ordinary person who was suspected of being a red shirt walked by, s/he would be surrounded, shoved around, and whistles would be blown at her/him. But the actions did not go to the extent of swarming around people and then trampling upon them. As far as what I saw, there was the slapping of people’s heads and shoving them out of the area. Luckily, there were 2 people nearby calling for them to not use violence.
For about an hour, I stayed there and took photographs. There was constant disorder. This included jeering at buses suspected of having red shirts aboard as passengers. The protestors attempted to take one bus and close the road. But the driver quickly turned the bus around and left.
I saw a songthaew full to the brim with construction workers who, by chance, were wearing maroon clothes. The songthaew was pursued. In the lanes nearby, people were being chased and attacked. The chaos was continual.
As the number of protestors kept increasing, there was only one policeman on duty at the Wat Thep Lila intersection. There was no leader in charge of the protests, but a vehicle drove around broadcasting that the protestors should get ready, as Red Shirts would soon be exiting Ratchamangkhala Stadium. What I thought then was that the Red Shirts might not be able to get into the stadium, and when they came out, there would definitely be fighting.
Around 7.30 pm, I could not get past that point, and so I walked back to try to go behind Ramkhamhaeng University …
I then walked back to Ramkhamhaeng Soi 24, so that I reach the area behind the university. At the entrance of the street, I saw a Red Shirt family — mother, father, child — riding a motorbike and talking on the phone, trying to find a way into Ratchamangkhala Stadium. I warned them not to drive past Wat Thep Lila, because there is certain danger there, and, that if it was possible, they should take off their red shirts, because the whistle-blowing protestors are circling on motorbikes.
At the entrance to Ramkhamhaeng Soi 24, people were still going about ordinary life, but many looked tense and seemed to be hurrying home as fast as possible. I walked down the street until I was almost to the end near back of the university. I began to see clusters of Red Shirts walking together. My sense was that they had just arrived and were looking for a way to enter the stadium. A few minutes later, a large group ran past and yelled, “There is shooting” …
I then slipped onto a side street. People ran past me, and there was unrelenting chaos and disorder. I saw the lights of a police truck parked at a gas station and walked over to observe. I saw a group of Red Shirts, largely middle-aged and elderly women, coming together at the gas station. I asked them who was shooting whom? They told me that did not know which side was shooting, but they had heard the gunshots.
I continued walking down Soi 24 behind Ramkhamhaeng, towards Ratchamangkhala Stadium. I encountered many groups of Red Shirts who were walking in the same direction, but also some groups who were walking out from the stadium. I heard many groups of Red Shirts say that they were trying to enter Ratchamangkhala Stadium, but they could not go in because a group of teenagers — they did not know who they were — had blockaded the entrance.
I stopped at the entrance to Intersection 10 of Ramkhamhaeng Soi 24. A Red Shirt woman ran by, screaming that a group of teenagers had forced her to take off her clothes. A few minutes later, a large number of Red Shirts began yelling at a group of teenagers who had formed a blockade nearby. By then, the chaos began to include the lobbing of objects back and forth between the Red Shirts and the group of teenagers.
For a few minutes, things were launched back and forth. Then, the group of teenagers began to come close to the Red Shirts, who then ran in retreat. The ordinary people walking back and forth in the area began to look for refuge from the bottles and sticks coming down. I heard a shot fired into the sky, but I could not clearly identify which group it came from.
The situation was tense and I then sought refuge inside an [internet] game shop. Outside, the entrance to Intersection 10 was blanketed by the group of teenagers.
Many passersby fled inside the game shop and they quickly closed the door. It began to grow quiet, with the intermittent sound of yells of condemnation. The last sentence that I heard before the full war behind Ramkhamhaeng began around 8 pm was
“Just wait, mung [derogatory form of ‘you’] … in 5 minutes, we will meet”
The glass door to the game shop was closed and locked, and the steel shutter outside was pulled down halfway. There were still several kids in the shop playing games and uninterested in what was taking place outside.
At first, I thought that the gravest violence would be the two groups of the masses throwing things back and forth … but soon it started to sound like there were large firecrackers, some bombs, some gunshots. The loud noises made me realise that what was taking place was no longer an ordinary fight.
The group of teenagers only held the area of Intersection 10 briefly. After the Red Shirts retreated, and I heard the strains of “in 5 minutes, we will meet” … not long after that, a group of people who were the front line of the fight against the teenagers passed. They appeared to be grown men and wearing red jackets and black shirts (the men in black?). Some people wore motorcycle helmets, they had been the front lines for the Red Shirts. But I also saw women, women who were angry, standing in front as well.
I peered out through the windows of the game shop. The fighting was constant. There were sounds of guns, some automatic. There were sounds of explosions. There were sounds of bottles landing. There were sounds of people chasing and pursuing one another. At Intersection 10, victory seemed to be savage. I heard curses being hurled. I heard cheers urging killing. I heard calls to kill them, because if not, then we will die.
During the period in which the Red Shirts controlled the entrance to Intersection 10, I was able to leave the shop to take pictures. I went out to observe the situation. By that time, the majority of Red Shirts were adult men. I saw barely any women or elderly people.
The front lines fought for a total of 2 hours, without any soldiers or police entering the area. The people who had fled into the game shop could not go anywhere while the two sides were still fighting. When the teenagers were able to take control of the area, I heard the sound of whistles being blown. When the Red Shirts took control of the area, I heard the voices of people saying, “Let them through, they don’t have anything.”
As the situation continued to escalate, the sound of guns and expositions became more frequent. I heard a voice say that there people throwing bottles down from inside the game shop, the game shop where I had fled.
After two hours, it was past 10 pm and there was still violent fighting outside. I thought that perhaps there would not be anything more than this. We would wait for the police to come and then find a way to leave. The person in charge of the game shop locked every door and said no one could leave until the police came.
The lights were turned off in the game shop and everyone sat quietly. The situation outside seemed to worsen … and suddenly there were 4-5 grown men, I don’t definitively know who controlled them (but some were wearing flag ribbons around their necks and yellow clothes). They opened the steel shutter door of the game shop and came upon it quickly. In a bloodthirsty rage, they tried to break down the door of the shop. They beat on the glass with steel pipes and wooden sticks and smashed beer bottles against it. They pulled on the door and told us to open it. They said come out, you people [phuak mung], you are hiding inside, aren’t you?
The people who had fled inside the shop were very frightened. Everyone ran up to hide on the second floor. Downstairs, there was no exit. The group outside tried to break down the door. All I could hear were the strains of voices: you people [phuak mung] are hiding inside, right? Come out here, you [mung]. Their voices were full of resentment and animosity.
The second floor of the game shop was a storage area and the door was in disrepair. I could hear the sound of guns growing louder and many bullets falling in front of the game shop. I am not sure if they were trying to shoot the glass at the front of the shop. The sound of rocks hitting the outside walls of the second story was constant.
A young boy and I brought two large chairs and an old air-conditioning unit to place in front of the door to the second floor to make it more difficult for them to break in.
At that time, everyone was very frightened. A young girl was crying. We sat in the middle of the room and thought about what we should do. We decided that if they made it inside, we would be as quiet and still as possible. Anyone wearing a red shirt would take it off. One child was wearing one. We would try to tell them that we were just kids who came into play games, not Red Shirts. My partner was wearing a press armband, we would use this to say that she was a journalist who had fled inside.
As the men were beating on the glass downstairs, I paid attention to their mood. I thought that if they made it inside, they might not be able to hear anything we said. The first thing they would probably do if they broke in, and if they had guns, was to kill us all. I could sense the strength of their resentment.
Chaos still reigned. The young person in charge of the store called to tell the police and the owner that the shop was being broken into. Being on the second floor was risky because the windows had wrought-iron bars and did not have frames [that he bars could be removed from]. If someone threw a bomb through the bars, there was no way we would survive. At that time, it seemed as if both sides were using stronger, and more frequent, weapons. Bottles and rocks were being thrown constantly.
Since the group of teenagers suspected that we were throwing bottles down onto them, we were as quiet as we could be. We did not use our mobile phones because we did not want the light to alert them that people were inside. At that time, I could not communicate anything to the outside world at all.
Nearly an hour passed and we were still stuck on the second floor. Outside, the fighting seemed to be as if in revenge for a former life. I sat and wondered what caused people to hate each other to the degree that they were willing to kill each other. And I let go of trying to predict what would happen.
It grew quiet, and it was terrifying because it was followed by the sound of a loud explosion, and the sound of something hitting the second floor. Everyone sat scattered around the room, looking for a place to escape if we were unlucky and a bomb came inside.
I heard a voice screaming to just burn the building down. A few minutes later, I started to see the light of things burning. At first I thought that perhaps we were being set on fire. If we went downstairs, we might be shot or beaten and killed by them, because there was no exit since the windows were all covered in bars … But when I looked outside, I saw that it was the burning of a shirt and I was relieved.
There were a few moments of quiet, and then I saw the lights of police trucks. A voice instructed everyone in the area to stop [fighting], to calm down and to go home.
A procession of more than 20 police vehicles passed. We decided that we were safe and walked down and left the game shop. The conditions outside were ragged. The street was full of debris. Rocks. Wood. Broken and destroyed belongings.
This what I experienced during four hours on 30 November 2013. Two group of people who could kill without any constraint. For what? Even those who were looking for slaughter may not be able to answer this question.
It was killing simply to kill.
And if this is an indication, we may have to continue killing each other for a long time …