2Bangkok Situation Update: Divining the Plan

We have noted analysis from foreigners on the ground saying it does not seem like the security forces are committed, etc. This was true in the immediate past when the government was only reacting to the Red Shirts. It has also been clear in the past that there was no stomach from the military and the police were largely supporting Thaksin's return.

However, beginning with the shooting of Seh Daeng, it seems there is a new resolve. It is not the resolve that perhaps a Western person would recognize, but seen in the light of how the military and government tends to work, it does seem a final operation is already underway, driven by the authorities, to end the current situation.

Sequence of events

- Seh Daeng shot and effectively removed from command. The real issue was his attempt to discredit and replace Red leadership to prevent them from making a deal with the government to end the rally.

- Security forces begin to provoke the militant Red Shirts. This is to allow a certain degree of chaos to begin, get a feel for the types of weapons they have, and use up as much of the Red's ammo as possible. Footage of protesters running riot is continually emphasized on TV.

- Military snipers begin to occupy high-rises in the area and random shooting occurs, lending a sense of dangerous unease to the area.

- Police buildings and hospitals near the site are evacuated. Residents are urged to leave the area and vicinity.

- Reporters agree to leave the rally area because of danger.

- Additional states of emergencies declared in the provinces (anticipating trouble in response to a Bangkok crackdown).

- Today, RPGs were shot at the Dusit Thai Hotel, the one remaining immediate vantage point at the south end of the rally site and also host to many of the foreign press. The hotel is closed by noon. This eliminates one of the remaining vantage points overlooking the south end of the rally site where Seh Daeng's militant followers are in control and where they might be the most intense fighting.

- The government gives a 3pm deadline today for those not wanting to be arrested to leave the rally site.

Events may move rapidly if the military begins to act. Any hesitation raises great dangers of stalemate and complications. It took this long for the military and other institutions to agree to this plan, and the longer they wait, the greater the danger any of the players could lose their nerve again.

With embassies evacuated and Thaksin's international lawyer collecting human rights evidence at the site, it is anyone's guess what is planned. Bringing in foreigner activists to sit as human shields at the site? Certainly it would be something to complicate and compromise any operation.

Also, Amsterdam has promised a full series of articles explaining the Thai situation. As a contributor to major world newspapers and top websites, he will certainly be able to draw attention and increase pressure on the government. However, thus far, the initiative has not started. The longer the government waits, the more likely they will be facing an onslaught from one of the top spin doctors in the world. This, along with general international focus on "troops shooting live ammo at people" will begin to impact the government position.

Most troubling would be the bubbling up of protest in the provinces. So far, there has been much less provincial protesting than during the 2009 Songkran events. This has been good luck for the government, but the longer they wait without displaying resolve and force, the more likely they might have to deal with spreading disruptions in the provinces.

Of course this buildup of a plan is apparent to the Red leaders and is a government bargaining chip in their ongoing negotiations. Knowing that Seh Daeng was attempting to sideline them from leadership, it is perhaps not surprising that Veera is at an undisclosed location while negotiating the Red leaders' separate peace with the government. As the end to the rally contradicts Thaksin's desires, the Red Shirt leaders have to feel concern that they are under threat from the "independent" Red Shirt factions Seh Daeng once controlled in the southern part of the rally site.

Some sort of settlement, even if clearing comes, would probably be necessary so at least some of the Red Shirt leaders can call on the main body of the protest to end and then join the government line of denouncing the roving young men fighting soldiers as "terrorists" and mysterious "third hands." As the numbers of protesters at the site is still in the thousands, forcibly removing them would not be able to be accomplished quickly, so a dual plan comprising an agreement and then a rounding up of more radical groups, strung out far from the main site, might be an option.

The continual statements from the government over the last few days are clearly indicating momentum. They are building a case and sending signals about the lengths to which they will go. The talk of terrorism, civil war, and today "someone overseas attempting to overthrow the government" indicate to conventional political figures that those standing in the way at this time will be in harm's way.

This, along with Seh Daeng's killing, sent clear signals to the elite. There is never an anonymous killing or bombing in Thailand in which the meaning is not understood by those in power. Every one of the elite knows (as well as the press) who Seh Daeng was connected with and what his killing says about a shift in power and an end to the present situation. This is why top political figures have fled the country (as they always do) in anticipation of a messy and contentious operation.

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