P. S. Suryanarayana

17 killed, 140 injured in two days of clashes

SINGAPORE: At least 17 persons were killed and 140 injured in the latest clashes between “heavily armed protesters” and the security forces in Bangkok by Saturday, officials said. Non-Official estimates put the number of fatalities at 22 by nightfall.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Thailand's Southeast Asian neighbours like Singapore voiced concern. Mr. Ban called for de-escalation of the crisis and “a return to dialogue.” Singapore's Foreign Ministry expressed the view that “there is still time for a political solution” to this crisis in Thailand.

On a parallel political track, Thailand's military and civilian authorities, including Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, said they would press ahead with plans to end the prolonged occupation of the city's commercial hub by the protesters.

No timeline and tactics were announced.

The latest wave of confrontation began on Thursday, when the politically beleaguered Mr. Abhisit vowed to bring the two-month-long crisis to an end.

The Army then moved in to “encircle” the sprawling campsite of the protesters in Bangkok's commercial district.

In an update, Thai officials said, in televised comments in Bangkok, nearly 500 “armed elements” were still instigating an estimated crowd of 6,000 protesters at their campsite. Their number fell dramatically as a result of the encirclement, which was being enforced with an exit-route for those leaving the campsite peacefully, the officials emphasised.

Sathit Wongnongtoey, Minister in the Thai Prime Minister's Office, said the actions of the armed elements showed that the protesting United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) was driven by the “objective of using violence to overthrow the present government.” This was in line with the UDD's “rhetoric of a people's war and a civil war to incite the masses” in Thailand, said Mr. Sathit.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, Acting Government Spokesman, said the armed elements among the protesters used M79 grenades and other types of war-weapons to confront the armed forces.

Sansern Kaewkamnerd, an Army Colonel and Spokesman of the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation, said the present operations were “not intended to suppress the protesters by attacking them.”

The version of independent observers was that tensions began rising on Thursday after a former military officer, who had become a frontline UDD-organiser, came under an apparent sniper attack.

By Saturday, no one claimed responsibility.

And, in the narrative of these observers, clashes and explosions occurred whenever the variously-armed protesters ventured out of their encircled campsite to challenge those enforcing the security lockdown of the area.