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‘I promised.

So I’ll stay until the

soldiers come and shoot me’

Richard Lloyd Parry, Bangkok

The loneliest woman in Thailand sits in front of the Red

Shirt stage in central Bangkok. She wears a red T-shirt
and red bandanna, and carries in her hand a red flag.
For 43 days Pusdee Ngamcam has camped out here,
sleeping on a thin mat with the noise of this city in her
ears, living off instant noodles and braving the
unspeakable lavatory facilities. Only one thing has now
changed: she is alone.
Two hours earlier this spot had been a tumult of singing,
speechifying and righteous anger against the Government
of Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Thai Prime Minister. It was also
a place of fear. The armoured cars and infantrymen of the
Royal Thai Army were advancing towards the Red Shirts,
less than a mile down the road.
Many Thais expected a massacre, worse even than the
botched operation last month to clear another protest site
in which 25 people died. Or perhaps the army would
advance and then stop, putting more pressure on Nuttawut
Saikua, the Red Shirt leader, to negotiate. Very few, if
any, expected Mr Nuttawut’s announcement made on the
red stage a few moments after 1.30pm: that the Red Shirt
leadership was capitulating, handing itself over for arrest
en masse, and that the epic conflict that had unfolded in
Bangkok over the past two months was over.
“As soon as the leaders told them to leave, in ten minutes
everyone was gone,” Ms Pusdee, 45, an unmarried nurse
from Bangkok, says. “It’s not right, because we are
fighting for democracy.”
While the few thousand other protesters melted away into
the city or found sanctuary in a nearby Buddhist temple,
Ms Pusdee found herself the Last of the Red Shirts.
“I keep my promises, and I promised not to leave until
they dissolved Parliament and we have elections,” she
says in a wilderness of abandoned chairs, sleeping mats,
cooking equipment and amplifiers.
“They have not dissolved Parliament so I won’t leave. No
country in the world got democracy just by asking — you
have to fight for it.” How long will she stay here? “Until
the soldiers come here,” she says, “and shoot me.”
There is nothing fantastic about this idea. All morning the
Royal Thai Army has been shooting people in its path,
both Thais and foreigners. The dreadful end of the day, as
furious and leaderless Red Shirt hooligans set fire to
buildings across the city, has provided the images that the
Thai Government will thrust before the eyes of the world.
But until lunchtime it was a day like the four days that
preceded it — in which soldiers armed with automatic
weapons killed and injured civilians armed, for the most
part, with sticks, stones, bottles of petrol and fireworks.
One young man, whom I met as the sun was rising over
the massed armoured cars on the perimeter of the Red
Shirt zone, proudly showed me his contribution to the
struggle: three hand-made arrows, crafted from bamboo
and feather-flighted. The difficulty was that he had no
bow from which to fire them.
Instead he planned to shoot them at the advancing
armoured column with a small catapult. These are the
people whom the Thai Government has labelled
“terrorists”, though they have as much in common with
the Bash Street Kids as Osama bin Laden.
There are some armed anti-government protesters — the
so-called Black Shirts, hardcore militants who do their
best to avoid the gaze of foreign journalists and even of
their Red Shirt fellows. By lunchtime yesterday they were
fortifying one of the stations of Bangkok’s overhead Sky
Train against the army’s advance. I saw one automatic
rifle; colleagues reported at least one more, as well as
handguns. Ninja-like men were seen furtively running
with long, thin wrapped objects that may or may not have
been grenade launchers.
These may — or may not — have been used last month to
kill a colonel who was leading a botched assault on a Red
Shirt protest site, but in the past few days the influence of
a handful of urban guerrillas has been insignificant. Since
the army began its operation of suppression last Thursday,
only one military man has been killed: an air force officer
accidentally shot by his comrades.
The rest of the dead, close to 50 of them, and almost all of
the injured, have been civilians.
Some of them were Black Shirts, firing suicidally over the
barriers at the soldiers. But others were ordinary Thais
and people like me, nervously backing down the street
ahead of the advancing fire, unable even to see through
the smoke of the burning barricades to the soldiers
shooting their assault rifles.
Shots whistled down the street unpredictably. The victims
were carried out, a few every hour, by daredevil
ambulances screaming and skidding in and out of the kill
All morning one tried to imagine what would happen
when they reached the main stage, where Ms Pusdee and
her friends were waiting, tremulous but determined.
For weeks speakers such as Mr Nuttawut had been
reinforcing their belief in the nobility of their cause and
the necessity of defending it to the death. Their demands
are straightforward: that Mr Abhisit, whose party has
never been elected, and who came to power as the indirect
result of a military coup, step down and call elections.
No wonder then, that Ms Pusdee feels betrayed — and no
wonder that Mr Nuttawut made the choice that he did.
“All the people were ready to give up their lives,” a
woman named Pom told me in the temple where she had
taken refuge. “The leaders chose to give up their freedom
to save our lives.”
And no surprise, really, that the younger and more
thuggish of the Reds chose to run amok, burning banks,
the stock exchange, a TV station regarded as favouring
the Government and a shopping centre. Such destruction
can never be excused, but this has never been a conflict
with clear rights and wrongs.
Perhaps one should simply be grateful that it was not
much bloodier and that the worst Ms Pusdee has to deal
with is disappointment. For Mr Abhisit, who always
seemed such a decent man, this is a victory, but a victory
of which he can only decently feel ashamed.