Confusion Before Saturday's Protests over Preah Vihear

Note: This post has been originally published on August 7, 2010 in series of guest blogger posts forBangkok Pundit at AsianCorrespondent.

Veera Somkwamkid, leader of the Thailand Patriot Network (photo courtesy of Eric Seldin aka @thaicam, click here to see the rest of his gallery)

As previously blogged here, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), by the time you read this, are now on the streets again to protest in front of Government House over the ongoing Preah Vihear temple issue, despite the emergency decree - or are they?

Over the course of Friday, developments changed rapidly over the legality of the protests, the venue and in the end who's actually in charge of the protests that have witnessed a fallout between different fraction of the protesters. On Friday morning this was the status quo:

PAD to gather in front of the Govt House starting 8AM tomorrow, to pressure the Govt to cancel MOU43

Tweet by @TAN_Network (TAN News Network) on Friday, Aug 06, 2010 at 05:31:44

(Note: TAN News Network is the English language sister channel of ASTV, the PAD's news outlet)

But there were still questions about the legality of the protests, since we still have a state of emergency ever since the anti-government protests some months ago. On this issue, the first conflicting reports appeared. First it was reported the Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) has issued that the rally "does not violate the emergency decree". In a way the CRES would legitimize the protester's claim why they don't violate against the state of emergency. Last week, when the same protesters were rallying in front of the Bangkok bureau of UNESCO, many were claiming to "protect the country" so they would not violate the emergency decree.

But then the local police has announced the area around Government House is a no-go area. So, the police disagrees with the army. Well, that's not the first that has ever happened.

Short time later though, ASTV reported that the CRES has done a complete 180 degree turn of its earlier decision and also banned protesters from the site. Later that day, CRES has announced more details on the ruling:

CRES announces Government House 'off limits'; four roads around complex closed from 8pm, violators face two years imprisonment,Bt40,000 fine

Tweet by @MCOTEnglishnews (MCOT English News) on Friday, Aug 06, 2010 at 13:08:52

With the legality dealt there were still confusions on who actually are protesting on Saturday and where to go now since Government House was declared off-limits.

To understand who were are dealing with, it has to be noted that it is not actually the PAD (the yellow shirts) that are leading the latest Preah Vihear protests, but the Thailand Patriot Network (TPN) of Veera Somkwamkid. More on him later, but it can be already said that these two groups are affiliated with each other. Officially, the PAD (especially with Chamlong Srimuang being present all the time) are there just to support this campaign.

The more surprising (or not) was the announcement in the early evening that the PAD would move its protest somewhere else:

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Friday said that yellow shirts have agreed to move their rally from the Government House to Kilawes Stadium in Din Daeng area. The decision to move the rally site came after two-hour-and-a-half meeting between Abhisit and representatives of yellow shirts network.

"Yellow rally to move from Government House to a Din Daeng stadium PM", The Nation, August 2010

The Kilawes Stadium is located in the Thai-Japanese Sports Complex in Din Daeng, a Bangkok district that has been constantly the scene of street riots between protesters and soldiers in the past years. It was also reported that the protest has been 'downgraded' to a 'forum' to 'discuss' about this matter. Later, Bangkok Post reported that TPN also agrees to move.

But then in the evening, things have changed again!

Veera's group - Network of Preah Vihear Protectors - is determined to gather outside the PM's office in Government House today as planned. "We don't acknowledge the deal between the prime minister and the other group," Veera declared on television yesterday. [...]

PAD leaders were initially planning to rally in front of Government House to demand that Abhisit revoke the 2000 memorandum of understanding on boundary demarcation with Cambodia as well as voice their opposition to Preah Vihear's inscription as a World Heritage Site.

The Dharma Army Foundation, led by Chamlong Srimuang, later agreed to gather at the Thai-Japanese Stadium in Din Daeng today to express their views, concerns and visions with respect to Preah Vihear. Abhisit was to join the forum later in the day.

However, Veera refused to compromise and continued calling on people to join his protest.

"Defiant PAD group to go ahead with rally", The Nation, August 7, 2010

Evidently, Veera and his group have deflected from the PAD to stage their on protest at Government House, despite the area being sealed off. This apparent split between him and the PAD goes back on a series of incidents and partly some mudslinging between the two. Last year, Veera has led a group of 4,000 protesters under the PAD banner to the Thai-Cambodian border to protest about this very Preah Vihear issue that ended in riots with locals. The following day, the PAD leaders in Bangkok have denied any connections or endorsement to this group and their actions.

Then, earlier this year in June, Veera and the PAD were reported to have fallen out with each other. Matichon has obtained email exchanges between the PAD leaders with the PAD supporter's group in the US and Veera answering questions to someone. In the first mail, the PAD leaders have responded and denied to accusations made by Veera, an anti-corruption activist and until recently host of his own show on ASTV. The accusations includes being overcharged by ASTV to hold his own show, in which as a consequence Veera pulled it off the air and offered it to For Humankind TV (FMTV), that belongs to the religious buddhist sect Santi Asoke, of which PAD leader Chamlong is a devotee. I will not further go into the details of the two mails, as they go too deep to be relevant to this topic.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how and if at all the security authorities will deal with the two protests, especially the one in front of Government House. If the UNESCO protest of last week is anything to go by, it can be expected that the security forces will be far more lenient to the PAD and their affiliated groups than they were with the red shirts. Let alone the fact that prime minister Abhisit has met with these group for talks (again) shows that the what influence they still have over the government and also one must not forget that the yellow shirt leaders still have not been charged for the seizure of Government House and the Bangkok airports in 2008, as they indictments have been repeatedly postponed just as recently as last week.

We can also expect that both these groups will further push their nationalistic agenda under the pretext of 'protecting' the country. Whether the government will give in to the protesters (in a way they already did) or not, this will further complicates the already tense relations between Thailand and Cambodia.