A renegade Army general who openly supported Thailand’s red-shirt protesters was shot and seriously wounded Thursday, apparently by a sniper, in what may mark a major escalation in the prolonged and violent political crisis.
Gen. Khattiya Sawasdipol was shot at the perimeter of the sprawling red-shirt encampment in central Bangkok and was taken to a private hospital, where his supporters have gathered. Sporadic gunfire in the area wounded several other red shirts, say security sources.
Khattiya was suspended earlier this year from duty for defying his superiors and has become a celebrity among protesters. He took charge of securing the protest site and has opposed a peace plan worked out by red-shirt leaders and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Khattiya, who was securing the site in an unofficial capacity, has urged the protesters to fight on rather than accept a compromise.
General shot while talking to foreign reporters
The shooting came as the military began to impose a cordon around the sprawling protest site in a commercial district, five weeks after its seizure. Repeated calls to evacuate the site have been ignored and haven’t been backed by force, though deadly clashes took place on April 10 at another site in the capital.
It wasn’t clear who was behind the shooting, though red-shirt activists claim that military snipers were seen using tall buildings in the area. Khattiya, who is known as Sae Daeng, or "red commander," was reportedly talking to foreign correspondents when he was shot in the head.
Panitan Wattanyagorn, a government spokesperson, said the shooting took place in an area not under military control. He said it was still under investigation and wouldn’t comment on the possibility that a military marksman was responsible.
“Our operation tonight is just to tighten the checkpoints and cut off the utilities,” he said, referring to an earlier announcement on cutting power and water supplies in the area.
A Thai military officer suggested Khattiya may have been killed by a rival. He denied that the killing was part of a military operation and said there was no imminent military assault on the site. “We’re just taking the first steps,” he said.
Paul Quaglia, director of PSA Asia, a security consultancy in Bangkok, said witnesses at the scene had reported that shots came from a nearby hotel. He said unrest had begun to spread to northeast strongholds of the red shirts, who are mostly rural and working-class supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Many red-shirt leaders had begun to disown Khattiya, who is accused by Thai security officials of being behind a series of grenade attacks and shootings on government and military buildings over the past two months. He has denied the charges and said that he only helped red-shirt security guards to defend their turf.