Thai Reds Sing Cambodian Blues

Cambodia has a history of attracting troublemakers. But this is unlikely to include Thailand’s Red Shirts.

Luke Hunt

No sooner had Bangkok leapt on Phnom Penh over secret training bases for Thai Red Shirts, than those same anti-government 'pests' began stirring-up trouble again. On the streets of Ayutthaya, Thailand's old royal capital, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship is again hoping to build up a head of political steam.

The Thai government has a history of inextricably linking Red Shirts with ousted prime minister and Yellow Shirt anathema Thaksin Shinawatra whenever they make some noise. But in doing so they dismiss important realities, among them the popular support for the Red Shirts within Thai democracy.

In a similarly clumsy manner, Bangkok's chattering classes and Yellow Shirt supporters would like to think Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen—an unflinching ally of Thaksin—is a serious villain of peace, grooming red rebels in guerrilla tactics and urban warfare.

Early this month for instance, the chief of Thailand's Department of Special Investigation, Tharit Pengdit, spoke out, claiming that the Red Shirts came back into Thailand and went onto Chiang Mai to prepare for assignments after they were trained for sabotage and assassination in Cambodia.

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Phnom Penh responded to the accusations by demanding Thailand ‘put an end to the dirty games of concocting evidences to deflect Thailand public opinion from Thailand's own internal political and social problems.’

They were probably right—although Cambodia does have a history of attracting a diverse range of troublemakers.

Among them is Hambali, the terrorist who plotted the 2002 Bali bombings from a guesthouse behind Phnom Penh's city mosque. And there was Paul Francis Gadd, better known as Gary Glitter, the British glam rock star turned convicted child molester who hid there (from the public eye) during the early 2000s.

There have also been genuine dissidents like Vietnamese Montagnards and Chinese Uighurs who, rather sadly, misconstrued a heavy United Nations presence in Cambodia as likely to bring sanctuary.

Thailand, with its support for Pol Pot and his bloody band of ultra-Maoists throughout the latter years of the Cold War, contributed heavily to the culture of well-armed impunity that existed in Cambodia's earlier years of peace and which allowed mercenary services to thrive.

However, regular life has taken root in Cambodia and demand for such services these days are about as common as tourists heading out to the firing range to blow up a cow with rocket propelled grenades.

They are all very much a thing of the past and to suggest any of these people turned up on Cambodia's doorsteps as a result of government policy—like Red Shirts training for the overthrow of the Thai government—is simply out of step with the realities on the ground.