BANGKOK — Both police and the defense ministry maintain that they have no knowledge of the men in civilian clothes who were seen assisting security forces during a recent crackdown on demonstrators.
Nearly a week after the clashes on Saturday, in which about 40 men wearing military-styled buzz cuts were deployed alongside the riot police, senior officials have yet to acknowledge who those men were, and what they were doing at the protest.
“Those 30, 40 people who assembled, I have no idea either which group they belonged to,” police spokesman Maj. Gen. Yingyot Thepchamnong said by phone on Wednesday. “But we are investigating.”
Top: The unidentified men can be seen at around 28:40 mark.
The spokesman initially even denied the existence of those mysterious men, but changed his stance after a reporter told him that there were multiple photographs and videos of the individuals.
“According to our protocols, the people in charge of the crowd control operations would wear uniforms when conducting their duties in order to avoid any misunderstanding,” Maj. Gen. Yingyot said. “There were also some plain-cloth officers, but they were usually scattered around the demonstration area.”
The group of men was deployed in two organized lines just behind the riot police during a confrontation with demonstrators in front of the Grand Palace on Saturday. Most carried, or wore, white colored construction helmets, and all of them had the same buzz cuts adopted by policemen and soldiers. None of the men displayed any ID.
Police made no attempt to drive out the unidentified men throughout the operation.
The military won’t acknowledge them either. Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich also flatly denied on the phone Wednesday that the armed forces had anything to do with the group.
“We are not related to them at all,” Kongcheep said briefly on the phone. “You have to ask the police.”
Despite the denial, many demonstrators and observers are convinced that the men belonged to the authorities. Similar unidentified men were seen working closely with security officers in previous rallies. They were so ubiquitous that the protesters have a nickname for them – “Minions,” after a popular cartoon character.
In November, the military was forced to admit that one of the yellow-shirted men was one of their servicemen after he was struck in the head with a projectile during a protest.
Men with military-styled buzz cut march to reinforce the police lines at Government House to protesters’ boos and ironic applause. It is now clear beyond reasonable doubt that the yelllow-shirted men are security officers. #Thailand #KE #ม็อบ21ตุลา #WhatsHappeningInThailand pic.twitter.com/fz2Du1OT9S
— Khaosod English (@KhaosodEnglish) October 21, 2020
Police reform activist Somsri Hananuntasuk said this practice of deploying unidentified men in civilian clothes is not in line with international standards of crowd control.
“Why wear casual clothes? Why not clearly identify themselves to the public who they were?” Somsri said in a phone interview. “There was no need for plain-cloth officers at all, unless you want to infiltrate the protest and blame the demonstrators when there was violence.”
He added, “It wasn’t in compliance with international practice.”
Nonviolence advocate Gothom Arya also expressed alarm that no one seems to know who those white-helmeted men were. He called on the authorities to observe the rules of engagement and come clean about their agents in protests.
“If there were security officers in operation, they must identify themselves as such,” Gothom said. “Police must have an answer. They can’t just deny knowledge of the men. If they were in the area, police must know which side they belong to.”