BANGKOK — Former deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban formally reported to Thailand's national anti-graft agency to contest charges related his role in the deadly crackdown on Redshirt protesters in 2010.
Suthep, who has been living as a monk in southern Thailand since the May 2014 coup, submitted more than 150 documents to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) as a part of his defense.
The documents were bound together with a magazine-like cover featuring his portrait, titled "Testimony, Phra Suthep Paphakaro."
The subtitle read, "Concerning the case of terrorism during the UDD rallies in 2010," in reference to the Redshirts' official umbrella organization, the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship.
Suthep and his former supervisor, Abhisit Vejjajiva, have beencharged with abuse of power by the NACC for authorizing the military operation in 2010, which left over 90 people dead, mostly civilians. If proven guilty, the two Democrat Party politicians could be retrospectively impeached and banned from politics for five years.
Speaking to reporters after a two hour meeting with the NACC, Suthep said he told officials that Thailand was nearing a state of war prior to the 2010 crackdown, with "perpetrators using war weapons to kill people, police, and soldiers in the middle of the city."
"It was a severe crisis and an emergency situation. Therefore, the government appointed me to be director of the Center for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES)," said Suthep, who is now better known as the firebrand leader of the anti-government protests that preceded the 2014 May coup.
"Let me insist that we adjusted the plan according to the situation," Suthep said in response to the accusation that he and Abhisit failed to order a change in military tactics even after unarmed civilians were killed and wounded. "But we could not simply call off operation. Because if we did, it would amount to giving up our city to the bandits. It was my duty to restore peace. I hope you understand."
Suthep also stressed that Abhisit was not involved in the details of the military operation, except for setting a policy that strictly ordered security officers not to use violence.
"I would like to take sole responsibility over every order I gave," Suthep said.
The 2010 crackdown was an effort to disperse the thousands of Redshirt protesters who descended on Bangkok in March to demand a fresh election. In early April, the Redshirts escalated their protest by seizing the capital city's financial district, and the government declared an emergency situation.
On 10 April 2010, the government ordered the military to disperse the protesters, but the crackdown was called off after security officers encountered resistance from armed militants who became known as “Blackshirts.”
Another military operation was mounted in mid-May, culminating in the final assault on the protesters' camp in downtown Bangkok on 19 May 2010. More than 90 people were killed in the clashes, including protesters, soldiers, medical workers, bystanders, and two foreign journalists.
Government officials show weapons that were reportedly found in Redshirt camps to reporters, 22 May 2010.
Abhisit, Suthep, and other government and military officials at the time have blamed the violence on the Redshirt-allied gunmen that soldiers were allegedly forced to confront.
When a reporter asked Suthep about court inquests that have determined soldiers to be responsible for the deaths of civilians in the crackdown, the monk suggested that the so-called Blackshirts disguised themselves and hid amongst the soldiers.
"On the roads where the soldiers were positioned, there were people other than soldiers," Suthep said. "The bad people were there, too. A certain armed group joined in and attacked. The bad people had weapons like M16s and Tarvos that they seized from soldiers."
Suthep, who has been ordered by the NACC to return and provide more testimony on 21 April, vowed now to flee the legal process.
"I am not running anywhere. If the NACC submits the case to the NLA [National Legislative Assembly] to impeach me, I am willing to explain myself to parliament," Suthep said.
The NACC has also been tasked with pursuing a separate case against Abhisit and Suthep in the Supreme Court's Division for Holders of Political Office. The pair was initially charged with murder for their role the crackdown, but the Criminal Court dropped the case in 2014 and gave the NACC authority to prosecute the pair for "abuse of power" in Supreme Court instead.
2010 Crackdown Trial: Abhisit to Blame Violence on Blackshirts