BANGKOK — Thailand's military junta has asked Redshirts to call off a religious ceremony scheduled for 10 April that would mark the fifth anniversary of a deadly military crackdown on Redshirt protesters in 2010.
In a letter submitted to the army yesterday, Redshirt leaders asked the ruling junta to allow the ceremony at Plub Pla Chai temple, which they said would be strictly religious.
Redshirts gather for the first anniversary of the 10 April 2010 clashes in Bangkok on 10 April 2011.
Political gatherings are currently banned by the junta, which came to power after toppling a Redshirt-backed government last May.
"The event will only be about making merit,” Redshirt leader Thanawut Wichaidith said yesterday after submitting the letter. “There is no hidden agenda. There will not be any speeches.”
Thanawut even encouraged the junta to dispatch military officers to oversee the event, which is dedicated to the 20 civilians who died in clashes with soldiers on 10 April 2010.
"I hope the NCPO will allow this, because it's only Buddhist ceremony," he said, using an acronym for the junta’s formal name, the National Council for Peace and Order.
However, deputy chairman of the junta, Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, repeated the junta's stance against the event.
“I am asking for cooperation: don't organize any event during this time, because I don't want it to become a conflict,” he said. “I am asking them to stage personal activities instead of a gathering.”
The event is scheduled for this Friday, the fifth anniversary of the day that then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ordered the military to disperse tens of thousands of Redshirts who were rallying in Bangkok to demand a new election.
Twenty civilians and five soldiers died during clashes between soldiers and shadowy “Blackshirt” militants who were allied to the protesters.
The military later mounted another assault on the Redshirts in late May 2010, forcing the movement’s leaders to surrender and call off the protests on 19 May 2010. In total, more than 90 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the violence.
Since 2010, Redshirt activists have gathered in Bangkok every 10 April to honor the victims.
Speaking today, Gen. Prawit asked Redshirts to follow the example of the military, which has never memorialized the crackdown despite losing soldiers in the violence.
“Many soldiers died [in the crackdown], but we never commemorated it," he said. "If they want to make religious merit, no one will stop them. But they should not gather in large numbers. Please don't make it into a big issue. Soldiers died, too. But no one talks about them. No one asks about them."
The junta’s spokesperson, Col. Winthai Suwaree, said yesterday that the event risks taking a political turn, even if that’s not what the organizers intend.
"[Security officers] have not yet inspected details of the event, but judging from the nature of the activity, many sides see it as an activity that is related to politics," Col. Winthai said. "Individuals with ill intention may try to infiltrate the event and stage some incidents that may mislead the society."