Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol alias 'Seh Daeng' (Picture ©RN/BKLINK.BLOGSPOT)
In the aftermath of the most recent outbreaks of violence last Friday that killed two policemen, prime minister Abhisit has specifically named Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdipol as "a mastermind against the reconciliation road map" and a "chief terrorist" who "he did not want the protests to end". Additionally, he is threatened to be stripped of his army rank and being dismissed.
Who is he? Maj. Gen. Khattiya, also known as 'Seh Daeng', is one of the notorious hardliners in the red shirt movement but also regarded by many as a folk hero. According to his Wikipedia page, he was involved in undercover operations during the Vietnam war, later in Laos and also in Indonesia. Based on these events, he has written several bestseller novels which explains his broad popularity.
During the 2008 siege of Government House by the yellow shirted PAD, Khattiya was a supporter of the pro-Thaksin governments of Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat and led a black-claded militia group to counter the PAD guards. Already back then he showed his eccentric side and revealed to Straits Times reporter Nirmal Ghosh that one of the tactic to defeat the yellow shirts is to "drop snakes on them from helicopters."
During the change of power 'Seh Daeng' has been demoted to an aerobics instructor. Almost a year later, after becoming more involved in the red movement, he was suspended by the defense minister for an unauthorized trip to Cambodia in order to meet Thaksin. There also have been pictures of his visit to Thaksin in Dubai circulating around in Thai web boards and email forwards (also see this meeting of red hardliners with Thaksin in February 2010).
When the suspension was carried out by army chief General Anupong Paochinda in January 2010, his office at the army headquarters was bombed by M79 grenades and Khattiya was the main suspect. No one was hurt during this attack.
During the first week of the red march on Bangkok (man, is it that long ago already?), particularly after the symbolic blood spilling, Khattiya has fallen out with the red shirt leaders, ridiculing them for their lackluster leadership back then. However, 'Seh Daeng' reappeared during the dumb-ass ill-advised Chula Hospital fiasco and he gave the order to rebuild the barricade in front of the hospital, much to the displeasure of the red shirt leaders. Also, as pointed out in a recent profile on him in the Asia Times, he claims that so called 'Ronin warriors' have been fighting during the April 10 clashes and also killed soldiers, but at the same time denies any involvement.
As mentioned above, he had officially cut ties with the current red leaders and has called for the hardliners Arisaman Pongruengrong, Suporn Atthawong and Kwanchai Praiphana to take the helm. Last Monday he claimed to have received direct orders from Thaksin that the red leaders have been replaced by these aforementioned men - a claim that was quickly denied, saying that even Thaksin can not change the leaders. Some might question the public split between the red leaders and 'Seh Daeng', mirroring a Thai saying "แยกกันเดิน รวมกันตี" (walking different routes, striking together). But his announcement of the change of the red leaders can hardly been an unintentional mistake on 'Seh Daeng's' part, since he claimed his favorite candidates of some months before were supposed to be the new ones in charge.
He is now the unpredictable element of the red movement, since he pretty much has his own agenda to keep the protests going and is not afraid to turn onto his allies. And even if he denies any involvement in any of the violent clashes or any of the few dozens grenade attacks, with his defiant and aggressive stance he remains a controversial figure to say the least. His intentions are clear: to topple the current government and get redemption for his fall from grace two years ago. The fact that Khattiya is still running around the red zone and apparently is still able to command a group of loyal people shows that no one, neither the government, the army or the red leaders themselves would get rid of him easily. The question is: what makes him untouchable?
- Nirmal Ghosh (The Straits Times): Nobody messes with Seh Daeng (a profile from 2008)
- France 24: The Red Shirt revolutionary spirit (w/ video)
- Wall Street Journal: Video: Seh Daeng's Fortified Protest Area
- Asia Times: On guard at Bangkok's frontlines
- Bangkok Post: 'Guilty' Seh Daeng faces dismissal, stripping of rank (how the army wants to throw him out)