The two political bloodshed that took place in the same month of May may be 18 years apart, but they share a big similarity that should bother anyone who cares about accountability in this country.
The incidents may be 18 years apart but in both incidents, no one has been held responsible, no truth has been fully revealed and there’s little if no closure.
For Adul Kiewbariboon, leader of the relatives of those who were killed during the May 1992 uprising, who lost his son, there was no justice.
I met Adul last year and he told me that the closest he got from the autocrat PM Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon was a personal encounter with the general. According to Adul, Suchinda sent an aide to fetch him for a meeting soon after the deadly crackdown.
During the encounter, Adul told me that Suchinda privately expressed a sense of contrition for the loss of Adul’s son and added if there was anything he could do to comfort Adul, he should say it. Adul said he asked that Suchinda retreat from public for the rest of his life.
Suchinda, now 86, have since rarely been seen in public except at funerals and to cast a ballot during elections. The May 1992 uprising and massacre saw 44 officially recognized as killed and 1,728 injured.
Fast forward to another May, May 2010 bloody crackdown on redshirts where at least 84 people have been killed. I called Army spokesman Col Winthai Suvari on the phone last week for the 10th anniversary story of the crackdown and asked if any army officers have been prosecuted after a decade. The answer is no one.
As 10 of the 84 killed are army and police officers, I asked Winthai if there’s any progress on the case of the death of Col Romklao Thuwatham who was killed in the botched operation in April 2010. There was no progress as well.
Basically on both May 1992 and May 2010 clashes, not a single person has ever been held responsible for the deaths and injuries.
The month of May is cruel not just because justice is yet to be served, but the truth that is commonly accepted by Thai society is not even established. Who was the mastermind who ordered the troops to shoot to kill?
For the May 2010 crackdown, one ran the risk of libel if one said it was the Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva who should be held responsible. The court dismissed murder cases against Abhisit and his then deputy Suthep Thaugsubhan in 2017 on the ground that it has no jurisdiction to handle the case.
What’s clear is that during the crackdown which stretched from April to May 2010, official records showed that over 117,000 bullets have been used. At one Bangkok alley, a live fire zone sign was even posted warning the protesters. One can only wonder if most of these bullets were really fired onto the sky to warn protesters.
Without justice, there can be no lessons learnt.
It’s no wonder why some people got lost. Those who fought in May 1992 opposed military intervention in politics because Suchinda became a prime minister after he co-led the 1991 coup. After Suchinda was ousted, a fact finding committee was eventually set up and came up with a report but it was partly censored.
What lesson did people like Adul learn about the death of his son who fought against military dictatorship under Suchinda?
I’m not sure. Last October, Adul told the press that he supported hawkish Army Chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong, who played a role in the redshirts crackdown, as the next prime minister. Adul was quoted by the press as saying Apirat is the right man for the PM job and that he’s a “king’s soldier”.
To suffer from cruelty with no justice is tragic enough. It is even more cruel and tragic that there’s no closure about the truth as to what happened and lessons learned. Then people have to commemorate not just the deaths of many people but be reminded of state impunity every May.
That’s the tragedy and cruelty of the month of May in Thailand.