'Confusion' led to rally deaths at Phan Fah

Confusing and unclear commands resulted in the unsuccessful and fatal protest crackdown attempt on Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Bangkok last Tuesday, according to riot police officers deployed there.

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Police officers deployed to control demonstrators on Ratchadamnoen Avenue told the Bangkok Post that after their prolonged operation most of them were exhausted and morale was low, especially after experiencing the death of both a police colleague and of civilians.

Some officers who spoke on condition of anonymity said they questioned the decisions of their commanders and the government’s Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO).

They said the attempted crackdown on anti-government protesters at Phan Fa Bridge seemed to have been set up for the benefit of journalists only to show that police effectively cleared the area. But they ran into an unexpected armed response from unknown elements and had to make a hasty and disorganised retreat.

A non-commissioned officer who has been in the police service for more than a decade recalled the attempted crackdown of which he was a part. He said more than 2,000 police had been mobilised at the Royal Plaza on one end of Ratchadamnoen Avenue at 5am. Then they were moved to the Democracy Monument in the middle of the avenue between 8am and 9am but the crackdown operation was delayed until nearly 11am.

"We talked and agreed that dawn was the most suitable time to crack down and retake the area because the number of people was so small and we wondered why commanders did not do it then," the officer said.

The officer said Pol Lt Gen Kawee Supanant, commander of the Provincial Police Region 2, was the commander of the crackdown operation while Pol Maj Gen Khatcha Thatsat, chief of the Chon Buri police, and Pol Maj Gen Yingyos Thepjamnong, chief of Sa Kaeo police, were deputy commanders of the operation.

Officers of the Provincial Police Region 2 with riot gear were deployed on the front line against demonstrators. He and colleagues from the Metropolitan Police Division 6 were supporting from behind.

Shortly after the operation had begun, police dispersed because they were attacked with guns and grenades.

"At that time all supervisors disappeared," the officer recalled. "There were no commanders of a platoon or company left. I only heard the retreat order. When there was not a commander, we did not know what to do. So, we ran in different directions. I ran to Phra Pin Klao Bridge. In less than two minutes, thousands of police officers virtually disappeared from Ratchadamnoen Avenue."

The officer said police were then ready to accomplish the mission but the delayed operation exhausted them. The officers did not receive food that morning.

"If the CMPO had launched the operation early that morning, it would have been finished. The mob could not have fought. But why didn’t that happen?" he said.

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