Dawn-to-dusk footage from the front line of the Bangkok crackdown
I was up late writing, editing and waiting for an NPR interview early Wednesday morning when UDDThailand tweeted about the impending operation. Given UDD’s shrill tone and frequent wolf-crying, I didn’t take it seriously until a second source, photo_journ, made the same claims about APCs spotted on the highway.
By taxi, I arrived at Surawong Road at 5 a.m. Sure enough, there were trucks and buses packed with soldiers, support humvees carrying medics, and six APCs leading the convoy. At that point, I was the only journalist visible. I tweeted everything and kept the blog updated, thanks to Tracy Vanity, who also edited this video.
They rolled out 15 minutes later. The APCs led the convoy south on Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra Road before turning east onto Sathorn Road toward Lumpini Park, Bangkok’s sprawling central green space.
At the top of Sathorn, hundreds of police waited to support the soldiers. The medic vehicles held position as the APCs and soldiers advanced through the gate into Lumpini Park. A second unit proceeded west along Rama IV Road. The move was designed to close in from two sides on the heavily fortified red encampment surrounding the Rama VI statue in the southwest corner of the park.
I met up with a Beijing-based Chinese-American photojourn and we entered the park with the soldiers.
Advancing in threes and fours, Thai soldiers found cover behind picnic benches, trash bins and trees. Gunfire came toward both army units from the camp and elsewhere along Ratchadamri Road. I kept moving at the vanguard of the force inside Lumpini Park. An enormous cloud of black smoke from the burning barricade engulfed Chulalongkorn Hospital. Helicopters circled overhead, reportedly dropping teargas. After reaching their closest point, about 50 meters behind the gate leading to the statue area, I made it up to the back gate as an APC rolled into position above the camp on the expressway above Rama IV. Camp looked deserted.
A female Thai journalist was reportedly seen pointing out the locations of the bombs left by the Men in Black, which the army quickly disarmed. Enough to make journalists a target to any militants who may have been watching.
I circled back around to Rama IV and joined the main body of journos just as the APCs rolled over the erstwhile barricade to secure the camp. The APCs hung back at the camp while we moved with the soldiers up Ratchadamri Road. Two dead reds lay in the street where they were shot. It was slow going, with frequent exchanges of gunfire with militants, most likely the infamous Men in Black I’d camped with a few nights prior with two other photojourns.
They reclaimed the street tent-by-tent, searching for traps, weapons and taking anything of value. Two people spotted through a fence fled. Soldiers used rusty cleavers to hack down the red tarps and tents as they went.
Things got ugly at Sarasin. A car garage near the corner was turned into a holding cell for about one dozen detainees, including several “red monks.” An M79 grenade too close to a clump of journos near the corner, but we were shielded from the blast by the corner of a building. Soon thereafter a barrage of M79s began to come in all around and many journos sought shelter in an alley alongside the Brown Sugar restaurant. But nowhere was safe.
One grenade found its target, blowing a soldier’s arm off, wounding another and blasting shrapnel into the body and brain of Chandler Vandergrift, a Canadian freelancer.
The detention garage quickly became a field hospital, and about 15 minutes later APCs charged in to evacuate the wounded. Many of the soldiers left after this, making some of the journos nervous. The detainees were all loaded into a police truck which arrived. Assuming the army wasn’t going to push further up into the dangerous corridor, most turned back toward Lumpini to escape the conflict or find another way to the reds’ main stage at Rajprasong.