Saturday, April 25, 2009

One week on, Bangkok still has no answers


THE 4 Ws – Who, When, Where and What – of last week’s dramatic assassination attempt in Bangkok are known. The mystery is who’s behind the shooting ... and why.

Who: Media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul, the 61-year-old co-founder of People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a yellow-shirted movement opposing Thaksin Shinawatra, the force behind the red-shirted protesters.

The PAD had seized airports in Phuket, Krabi, Haadyai and Bangkok, in addition to the Thai prime minister’s office and numerous government buildings.

When: About 5am on April 17.

Where: On Samsen Road, at a petrol station near Sondhi’s media office in Banglamphu, Bangkok.

What: Men in military-style uniform, armed with AK47 and M16 assault rifles and an M79 grenade launcher, shot at the tyres of a black Toyota Alphard ferrying Sondhi to the ASTV station where he was to host his morning talk show.

The gunmen sprayed at least 100 bullets for around five minutes at the luxurious SUV. Miraculously, Sondhi, who claims he did not duck to escape the bullets, only suffered an injury to the head.

Jittanart Limthongkul (Sondhi’s son, in a telephone speech to a PAD concert in Phuket, as reported in Suthichai Yoon’s blog Thai Talk –

“A ‘Gestapo state’ is being formed as the base for a new political force that’s ‘as bad as the red shirts’. A new form of war is emerging – it’s being launched by the collusion of certain police and military officers.

“They are plotting a new coup. It is said that a minister, who is said to be involved in the attempted assassination of a privy councillor, is actively behind this new exercise.

“They are creating conditions for the dissolution of the House – so that the police and military officers involved would dominate the political scene.”

General Thanee Somboonsab (police investigator in charge of solving the case):

“The police have no first-hand evidence of the murder attempt and are relying mainly on intelligence reports linking people likely to benefit from Sondhi’s death.

“We don’t know whether the masterminds are connected to men in uniform.”

Kasit Piromya (Thai Foreign Minister and a PAD supporter speaking at the Asia Society in New York):

“Sondhi was supposed to have lunch with me at noon, but he was shot before we could meet. I think he is recovering quite well.

“So how did this turn into a situation where politicians cannot move about quite freely?

“It’s been survival for a few of us ... Thaksin failed on the populist movement and now I think he has resorted to some sort of assassination attempt.”

Thaksin Shinawatra (former Thai prime minister in an interview with Der Spiegel):

“It’s a government (Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s) that has been given the licence to kill.

“And I have the impression that the phase of ‘cut-off killings’ has begun – in other words, they are eliminating anyone who knows too much about the conspiracy of those in power against me.”
Thitinan Pongsudhirak (a political analyst at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review):

“The assassination/murder attempt on Sondhi is murky. Naturally, theories and conspiracies abound. The use of war weapons (M16, AK-47 and M79) suggests military, but which faction/side remains a conjecture.”

Wassana Nanuam (a military beat journalist at Bangkok Post):

“The brazen shooting has made a joke of the emergency law currently in effect in Bangkok, and the incident reinforced the belief of the people, particularly PAD supporters, that only uniformed men with the protection of higher-ups had the capacity to pull off such a high-profile murder attempt.

“Ordinary gunmen would have turned down the contract to silence a figure of such political significance as Sondhi.

“The assumption may be that Sondhi knows too much and his existence no longer holds any purpose, with Thaksin’s danger to the country now somewhat weakened.

“Sondhi is also perceived by certain powerful elements to be a thorn in the side, and a fighter to be eliminated when the war is over.”

Suporn Pansuea (a police major general):

“A police investigation found that the spent AK-47, M16 and HK shells found at the scene differ from those used by police officers.”

Gen Anupong Paojinda (the Army chief):

“The M16 shells found at the scene where Sondhi was shot were bullets from the army.”

The Nation (in an editorial):

“Who tried to kill Sondhi Limthongkul? There are many theories but no clear answers one week after the failed ‘hit’.”

(Published in The Star on April 25, 2009)