Agam's Gecko
Friday, April 17, 2009
Sondhi Limthongkul
Sondhi Limthongkul during an interview at the Government House protest on September 3, 2008.
Photo: Reuters / Sukree Sukplang

he founder of the People's Alliance for Democracy, formed in 2005 to oppose the then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ambushed by gunmen just after 5 am this morning as he was being driven to work at his Manager newspaper office.

Sondhi Limthongkul, his secretary and his driver were all hit by assault weapons fire after at least two attackers in a pick-up truck blocked Sondhi's vehicle, shot out the tires, then opened up on the occupants. Police found 84 bullet casings from AK-47, HK-33 and M-16 automatic weapons, as well as a dud M-79 shell which ended up in a nearby public bus.

After a two hour operation to remove a bullet fragment from his head, Sondhi is in good condition and able to speak. His driver, Adul Daengpradab, aged 28, remains in critical condition and a coma after five hours of surgery, having been shot in the head, chest and arm. Sondhi's secretary, Vayupak Mungklasin is in stable condition after suffering minor wounds. (update April 19: Adul remains in critical condition after another operation this morning.)

His supporters say that Sondhi has too many enemies to pinpoint likely culprits, and they would wait for results of the investigation without pointing fingers. The first thing on most minds will be possible revenge from Thaksin's red-shirted "Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship", but the media figure has also been critical of the police and military for their pathetic security performance which resulted in the emergency cancellation of the ASEAN summit last Saturday.

Sondhi Limthongkul
Sondhi walked by himself into the emergency room at a Bangkok hospital after suffering head and shoulder wounds on April 17, 2009.
Photo: Asia Satellite Television
News video seen yesterday showed the red-shirts calmly walking between inert soldiers on their way to breaking into the ASEAN venue. The police and military commanders were nowhere to be found, and no one was giving orders.

The shooting is likely to cause a delay in lifting the emergency decree which remains over Bangkok and nearby districts. A cabinet meeting this morning decided to keep the decree in place until they are certain that peace has fully returned to Bangkok.

Meanwhile the man at the centre of the deep political divisions in Thailand, fugitive ex-Prime Minister Thaksin, may again be on the run. His passport was revoked by the government after the assault on the summit, but according to his spokesman as interviewed by a Dubai newspaper, he does not accept the revocation and plans to leave the Arab Emirate for an undisclosed location in Africa.

Another wrinkle in the Thaksin saga appeared after the political tycoon claimed to possess "other passports." The Nicaraguan government in January reportedly appointed him as a "special ambassador" to draw investment into that country, and presented him with a Nicaraguan passport when he met President Daniel Ortega in February.

The truth of this is still in question. The Nation has obtained a copy of a letter from the Nicaraguan embassy in Mexico in response to a request for clarification from the Thai embassy in Mexico. It seems to be a slightly vague denial, depending on who does the translating. The important part reads in translation, "The Embassy of the Republic of Nicaragua informs the Royal Thai Embassy in Mexico that the news under scrutiny have no substance (or "are unsupported". Either version is acceptable)."

I'm curious why Thaksin would choose to leave Dubai, with all its air-conditioned shopping centres which his family enjoys, and run to Africa of all places. It may well have something to do with the violent attacks by his supporters on the citizens of Bangkok — and specifically the Muslim community around the Darul Amarn mosque.

As his roving bands of attackers retreated to their 'protest central' late on Monday night, they attacked several neighbourhoods with gunfire (killing two at Nang Lerng). They also attacked the Darul Amarn mosque and destroyed cars and motorcyles in the Petchaburi Soi 7 neighbourhood. This community and the Muslim Association of Bangkok responded by petitioning the Emir of Dubai to stop providing shelter for the convicted fugitive troublemaker.

It is not impossible that Thaksin has worn out his welcome in Dubai as he had in the UK, which revoked his visitor's visa some time ago. His enduring connections in China, where he has also spent part of his exile, may possibly explain his flight to Africa — where a number of countries are almost completely dependent on the PRC's financial investment.


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