The man who claimed he was appointed by ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra to lead the military wing of the Bangkok anti-government protests died in hospital today from sniper wounds.
Seh Daeng, the ‘Red Commander’ whose real name was major general Khittaya Sawasdiphol, died in hospital, bringing the death toll in five days of a government crackdown to 37.
He claimed that he was working on the personal orders of Mr Thaksin, who was convicted of corruption after being ousted in a military coup. He wanted to lead military action with his black clad ‘rangers’ but had been voted down by more moderate leaders of the anti-government Red Shirts.
He was widely believed to be the person who ordered an attack which killed a Thai army officer this month and was shot in the head by a sniper while talking to a reporter from the New York Times.
Seh Daeng claimed that he was disenfranchised with the Thai army after he was put in charge of aerobics and physical fitness. ‘The only dance I know is the hand grenade dance,’ he said. But his ranger units assisted Mr Thaksin in his ‘war on drugs’ in 2003 and 2004 when 2,500 people were ‘injudiciously killed’.
Today the Thai government said it would accept a ceasefire offer from a protest leader if Red Shirt fighters return to their camp.
Red Shirts defied orders to leave their fortified camp. The protesters, many of them women, continued to clap and cheer speakers on stage as the government deadline to abandon their demonstration passed.
A British couple made their break for freedom after living for four days in a ‘live fire zone’.
Gary Wilson, 29, and Urszula Wojciechowski, 39, from Loughborough, claimed that staff at their hotel in the Rajaprarop zone blocked the internet and hid the newspapers so they did not know what was going on. They could find no news on the TV.
Taxi drivers would not give them any information and a wrong turn out of the hotel would have led them directly into the line of fire between troops and protesters, just 30 yards away.
Ms Wojciechowski said before checking out: ‘We are going to live at the airport until our flight home departs. I have never been so scared in my life. We were running around on our holiday with our hands in the air.’
Rapid gunfire and explosions echoed early this morning outside the Dusit Thani hotel, next to the protest zone. Guests were rushed to the basement for safety, and the management today asked all guests to check out by noon.
Reports from the scene said the gunfire came from government forces and protesters inside the encampment who appear to have stockpiled weapons.
Early today several hundred army troops and heavily armed police were spotted in the Sukhumvit area, a residential area popular with Bangkok expatriates. Roads were blocked to prevent traffic from travelling towards the protest zone and many residents were making plans to leave.
‘People are either battening down the hatches and not moving out of the area, or they’re getting out of town,’ said New Zealander Debbie Oakes, who has lived in Bangkok for four years.
Red Shirts paid tribute to Khattiya and vowed to continue their demonstrations, in which they are demanding the immediate resignation of prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the dissolution of parliament and new elections.
‘Seh Daeng has accomplished his duty. All of us here have the duty to carry on the quest for justice,’ said a Red Shirt leader, Jatuporn Prompan.
According to government figures, 66 people have died and more than 1,600 have been wounded since the Red Shirts began their protests in March. The toll includes 37 killed, most of them civilians, and 266 wounded since Thursday.