Saturday, September 30, 2006

Thai army jittery as it moves to quell unrest

Strange events in a peaceful area of Thailand. Looks like someone might be stirring up trouble over the coup. I hope this does not spread and cause more than just a few burnt buildings. Thailand needs to move on... get a new interim government installed and prepare for its new constitution and general elections.

Thai army jittery as it moves to quell unrest - World -

AS INVESTIGATORS pick through the embers at five smouldering schools in central Thailand, the military coup leaders have tightened restrictions on community radio stations to ensure their message is the only one rural Thailand receives.

The army is unsettled by the co-ordinated attack on five remote schools in a sleepy, conservative farming province five hours' drive north of Bangkok with no history of political unrest.

The pragmatic locals know trouble when they see it. With soldiers looking on, the villagers laid flowers amid the still smoking ruins of Baan Chantima school, in Moo 3 village on Thursday, and cursed those who brought politics to their doors.

Initially, the military blamed tensions between teachers, but this has been quickly dismissed. The most likely scenario - an unsettling conclusion for the generals - is that the schools represent the first aggressive opposition to the coup on September 19.

The military has called in Bangkok's Central Institute for Forensic Science to co-ordinate with forensic police. A third army investigation is also under way.

"It is a challenge to the coup people and it is a stronghold for [deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra's party] Thai Rak Thai," said one man at burnt-out Baan Chantima school who did not wish to be named.

There were more valuable targets to the north, he said on Thursday, such as the heavily armed 3rd Army Command at Phitsanulok, and oilwells. "Perhaps the event took place here because no one would expect it."

It seems an odd place to start a counter-revolution. Kampang Phet province is a Thaksin stronghold, but the rice and sugar-cane growing province is better known for its bird flu outbreaks than revolutionary activity.


Baan Chantima school was one of five schools in three districts torched by arsonists. In each case a wooden school building was targeted and the concrete buildings left alone. Two were completely gutted and three partially burnt.

Burning schools are a familiar sight in southern Thailand but are unheard of in central and northern Thailand. "It has never happened before in the nine years I have lived here," said Piyarat Wongmanee, 36, who teaches sixth grade at Baan Chantima.

"Personally, I don't feel like it's the same as the south. It's very peaceful here, nothing like this has ever happened before."

Police Lieutenant-General Somchai Chalermsooksant, the deputy director of the forensic institute, said these attacks were different from the south. "In the south they use branches, tie it with soaked cloth, light it and throw."

The villagers in this remote district now have one thing in common with the south: soldiers on their streets who say they are there to reassure locals that they are still safe.

"Soldiers never visit this place, this is more a police dominance area," one villager said. "People trust the police more than the military here."

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