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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

AsiaweekTimeAsia NowAsiaweek story

FEBRUARY 11, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 5

Defending the Shootout
The government has public opinion onside
By ROGER MITTON Bangkok

So the bumbling general was right.

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Pakistan: Of Rhetoric and Reality
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India: 'Pakistan Unpredictable'
But India can hold its ground, says Fernandes

Indonesia: Washington on Wahid
America's top man on East Asia applauds Indonesia's president

Thailand: The Enemy on the Border
More than anyone else, it's Myanmar United Wa State Army that threatens Thailand's security
Call It Opium Cleansing
Myanmar is trying to improve its image
• Defending the Shootout
The government has public opinion onside

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Back in December, Thailand's opposition leader Gen. Chavalit Yongchaiyudh warned in Parliament that Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai's government looked like "a fool in the eyes of the world" because of its lax handling of a siege at the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok. Not only had the heavily armed terrorists gained easy access to the diplomatic compound in downtown Bangkok, but they were allowed to go scot-free in return for releasing their hostages. Chavalit claimed the incident showed how bad Thai security services were and predicted another terrorist attack by Burmese dissidents - and perhaps by other violent groups. He said that already a fugitive Cambodian called Sok Yoeun, wanted for an alleged assassination attempt on PM Hun Sen, had entered Thailand and he claimed that other terrorists - even those associated with the notorious Osama bin Laden - might be in the country. Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan exploded and said it was all utter nonsense. Chavalit was ridiculed pitilessly in the domestic media.

Cut to today. Every one of Chavalit's warnings has proved true. Within days, he was vindicated over the Sok Yoeun issue and Surin was forced to make an abject apology admitting that the runaway Cambodian was indeed in Thailand. Sok Yoeun is now in jail in Bangkok and Hun Sen is clamoring for his extradition. As for Chavalit's admonition that another Myanmar terrorist attack was on the cards, this was proved spot on when Karen rebels took over a hospital in Ratchaburi on Jan. 24 and held hundreds hostage. Again, inept border security appeared to justify Chavalit's tocsin. Even his much lampooned claim that bin Laden associates may be in Thailand has now been verified publicly by no less a figure than the National Intelligence Agency head. Chavalit, still vainly hoping for another shot at the premiership, may well reap some benefit from all this in the general election due later this year.

But Chuan, too, will gain kudos - and rightly so. At an Army Day reception after commandos had stormed the hospital, exterminated the rebels and freed the hostages, the premier looked ecstatic. He is often accused of being indecisive; but after boldly sending in the assault team on this fearfully risky mission, no one will make that idiotic charge again. And public opinion massively supported him - a near-unique occurrence in politically fractious Thailand. Of course, there is controversy over reports that some rebels were shot in cold blood. Pictures showed their stripped corpses with bullet holes in their heads and their arms tied behind their backs. Government spokesman Akapol Sorasuchart denies any extrajudicial executions: "They all died in action."

Few believe that; but even fewer seem to care. The consensus is that they were foreign terrorists, armed to the teeth, who took over Thai property - a hospital, for God's sake - so what did they expect? Still, some activists intend to make an issue of it. Says Somchai Homlaor of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development: "If the hostage-takers laid down their arms and surrendered, they should have been arrested. If the officers did not do that and killed them, that is murder." Somchai's group wants to track down relatives of the dead so they can lodge complaints and get the courts to look into the matter. "Public opinion may be happy," he says, "but we must comply with the law." Don't hold your breath. Few Thais are listening to him any more than they once did to Chavalit.

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