Nearly five years later, myths about who is responsible for the more than 90 people killed in the 2010 crackdown refuse to die.
As former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban prepare to defend themselves against “abuse of power” charges for authorizing the crackdown on Redshirt protesters, both leaders have drawn upon old narratives that pin all of the violence on militants who were allied with the demonstrators.
Redshirt protesters confront with armed soldiers during a clash in Pathum Thani province, 9 April 2010.
The former Democrat Party politicians have held on to this version of history despite several court inquests and independent investigations by human rights groups that have determined soldiers to be responsible for the deaths of many unarmed civilians during the unrest.
According to Abhisit and Suthep’s story, soldiers only acted in self-defense against the Redshirt-allied militants. Suthep in particular has continued to allege that the militants, commonly referred to as the Blackshirts, went as far as intentionally killing unarmed Redshirt protesters in an effort to smear the government.
While there is widespread evidence that armed elements were embedded among the Redshirts, the role of these militants has been greatly inflated by Democrat Party leaders and military commanders.
The important question is whether the military acted proportionally in the face of resistance from the militants. Based on eyewitnesses' accounts and media footage from the crackdown, military officers repeatedly acted in ways that put civilians in danger. Soldiers fired live ammunition into crowds that included unarmed demonstrators, and even into the “safe zone” that was established inside a Buddhist temple, killing six civilians. According to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), which has charged Abhisit and Suthep with abuse of power, the government leaders did not alter the scope or methods of the operation even after it was clear that unarmed protesters and bystanders were being killed and injured.
Even if Abhisit and Suthep’s claim that the crackdown was necessary to quell the Blackshirts is taken at face value, the operation should still be deemed a failure, as none of the fatalities have been proven beyond reasonable doubt to be members of the militant group. Instead, the crackdown killed demonstrators, bystanders, children, medical workers, journalists, and even soldiers.
The families of those who were killed in the crackdown are still waiting for a single member of the Abhisit government or military to publicly acknowledge that civilians were killed by security forces. Instead, the Democrat leaders have continued to paint the confrontation as a "war" that pitched security officers against "terrorists." This claim was repeated again by Suthep this week, when he told the NACC that he was forced to continue the crackdown so that "bandits" would not take over the city. This narrative ignores the fact that the majority of the Redshirt demonstrators were peaceful and had no association with the militant wing.
Although the violence committed by the Blackshirts is unacceptable, it should not be used to whitewash the Abhisit government and military of all responsibility for their role in one of the bloodiest episodes in recent Thai history.