In the Line of Fire
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In the Line of Fire


By SAW YAN NAING JUNE, 2010 - VOLUME 18 NO.6


Redshirt protesters in the "live fire zone" tires to throw on a fire
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A report from the field on the final bloody days of the Redshirt protest and the burning of Bangkok

BANGKOK—After being checked by heavily armed Thai soldiers, I walked about one mile and entered the Redshirt camp at the Ratchaprasong intersection with two colleagues on May 18.

Thousands of Redshirt protesters had been camping at the Ratchaprasong intersection for more than two months.

Before we entered the camp, local people and taxi drivers told us that the camp area was dangerous and to be careful. Gunfire could break out at any time, and there were government snipers on many of the surrounding high-rise buildings.

Song, one of my Bangkok friends, had witnessed gunfire, and he told me that you can hear a bullet whizz past.

“You don’t know who is shooting or where the bullets are coming from. You need to be careful,” he said.

Journalists were encouraged to wear bulletproof vests and helmets while in the field, but we had none. Our only protection was the “PRESS” band we wore on our arm.

As I entered the camp, I realized that not only was this my first time covering an armed conflict—it could also be my last. But the lure of a good story, with good photographs and good video clips, overcame my fears.

Hundreds of protesters, including children, women and the elderly, filled the camp. Many were sleeping or resting, while others talked or watched television. Most looked tired and didn’t seem overly friendly with journalists, perhaps because they had been talking to reporters for many days.

While I was interviewing a woman, she was suddenly slapped on her cheek by her husband, and he asked us to delete the photographs and video that we had taken. Emotions were running high.

Later, we attended a press briefing by Redshirt leaders who called on the government to stop shooting and killing protesters. After taking photographs and shooting some video, we walked over to Pathum Wanaram temple to photograph the children, women and elderly who were taking shelter inside.

After three hours, I left the camp, only to learn a few hours later that my colleague, Nice, had been roughed up Redshirt security staff following an interview.

The next day, on May 19, the government troops launched a bloody crackdown against the protesters, and we rushed to the frontline at the Samyan intersection, where government troops and anti-government protesters were fighting.

The first thing we saw was smoke coming from the top of a high building and anti-government protesters burning tires in the conflict zone, which was cordoned off by signs with cross marks.

Several Redshirts had walked into the forbidden zone and were setting fires. Some Redshirt protesters seemed afraid of nothing. They drove into the banned zone shouting. Many of their supporters cheered and clapped. A few journalists and taxi drivers also arrived on the scene.

The Redshirt protesters set fire to tires in front of us. Government troops were positioned opposite the Redshirts. Snipers were reported to be on the high buildings looking down of the scene.

“Be careful. There are snipers in the building,” said one Redshirt. “They shoot everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are.”

After studying the scene for about 30 minutes, we decided to enter the prohibited zone accompanied by a few Redshirt protesters.

One Redshirt shouted, “Abhisit [the Thai prime minister] is crazy,” at us as we passed by.

We reached the Redshirt side unharmed, and we could see government troops opposite us.

About 15 minutes later, we heard gunfire coming from on the top of nearby buildings. The sounds appeared to come closer to us and everyone started to run.

Someone shouted, “Crouch down, crouch down!” but I kept running. It felt like the shooting was following me. I took cover between two buildings and waited for my friend. A short while later, we decided it was best to leave the area.

We found two motorcycle drivers who took us into a more peaceful downtown area. It took about one hour to get past all the barricades  and checkpoints deployed on the roads where Redshirts were active.

I received a text message from my Irrawaddy collegue Simon Roughneen, who was at the Ratchaprasong intersection where government troops had brutally cracked down on Redshirt protesters.

His message read, “We are pinned down near Rajadamri and Lumpini Park.” I had no time to call him, because we were still trying to exit the crossfire zone.

After we were out of danger, I planned to check out the Ratchaprasong intersection, but I got a call from Simon who advised not to try it because the fighting was still going on, and it was too risky.

He said his friend, a Canadian photographer, had been wounded by a grenade fragment.



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napicha Wrote:
17/06/2010
This is one-sided story, told by a writer who is going inside the Redshirts.

It doesn't surprise me about the story you wrote in this article. The Redshirts SEEM to suspect all things, and the snipers they try to make story.

Until now, there's still no proof that the sniper is from the government. Who knows? There's a conflict inside the Reds themselves.

I understand that it's human right to express their opinion. But I still believe we don't have to stage a terror (like the Redshirts always try to do), vandalize buildings and bombing.

It's a grey area to report this news. You may focus on the Redshirts to sympathize them.

But on the other hand, what about the people who live in fear for few months in BKK?
We also have right to live in peace!

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