BANGKOK — Former deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has submitted further evidence to Thailand's national anti-graft agency about the shadowy militants who fought with security officers during the military crackdown on Redshirt protesters in 2010.
The evidence was submitted as part of Suthep's defense against charges filed by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), which is seeking to retroactively impeach Suthep and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for authorizing the military crackdown in 2010 that left at least 90 people dead, mostly civilians.
Suthep Thaugsuban (center) arriving at the NACC on 21 April 2015.
After speaking to NACC representatives for nearly three hours today, Suthep emerged and told reporters that he presented the agency with video footage and photos of the so-called Blackshirt militants who fought with soldiers during the crackdown that lasted from April to May 2010.
"I showed the clip so that the NACC will see with its own eyes what really happened, what the Blackshirts were like, what kind of weapons they used," said Suthep, who joined the monkhood last year after leading six months of anti-government protests that culminated in the May 2014 coup.
"This event happened so long ago," he continued. "People have forgotten about it already. They can't remember what it was like on those days. They have forgotten about the nightmares that Bangkok people have."
The crackdown followed weeks of street protests in Bangkok by Redshirt demonstrators who were demanding a fresh election from Abhisit. The protests were eventually called off after the Redshirt leadership surrendered to authorities on 19 May 2010.
The Abhisit government and military commanders have repeatedly blamed the Blackshirts for the crackdown violence, despite several court inquests that have attributed civilian deaths to soldiers, some of whom shot indiscriminately into crowds of unarmed protesters.
Soldiers fire rubber bullets at Redshirt protesters near Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Bangkok, 10 April 2010.
Speaking to reporters today, Suthep insisted that the military operation was an appropriate response to the situation encountered by authorities. He described the military operation on 10 April 2010, which left 25 people dead, as an attempt by security officers "to ask the protesters to return the traffic area." The violence, he said, did not start until Blackshirt militants allied with the protesters attacked security officers, leading to injuries and fatalities.
After that initial attempt to disperse the crowds of Redshirts failed, the government decided to change tactics in May and surround the protesters with checkpoints, Suthep said.
"We tried to block demonstrations, new protesters, the flow of weapons, and uses of infrastructure in the area. We wanted to pressure them into calling off the protest on their own," Suthep said. "But they fired M79 grenades onto skytrain stations and the area around Lumpini Park. Security officers and innocent civilians were killed. So, we could not only man checkpoints. We were forced to send forces to control the area. We had no choice. That's why the event [the final assault] on 19 May took place."
Suthep conceded that security officers used live ammunition in the operation, but said soldiers only used the weapons to defend themselves and the public from the Blackshirt militants.
"There were rules guiding the use of firearms in necessary situations, such as protecting the lives of state officials and innocent people," Suthep told reporters. Soldiers were not authorized to "take lives of the targets," he said.
He also vowed to contest the charges filed by the NACC to the very end.
"I am ready to enter justice procedure. I am not concerned. I will not run anywhere. A Thai person must respect Thai laws."
If the NACC proceeds with the case, Thailand's junta-appointed legislature will vote on whether to impeach the former Democrat Party politicians and thereby ban them from politics for five years. If they are found guilty, Abhisit and Suthep will be the first state officials to be held responsible for the 2010 crackdown.
Although Redshirt leaders have repeatedly denied any connection to the Blackshirts, a number of activists have privately acknowledged that militants were allied to their movement and provided a necessary self-defence against the military.
The identity of the Blackshirts has never been independently verified, though police arrested five men and one woman suspected of belonging to the militant cell last September. The group is awaiting trial in Bangkok prisons.