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Cablegate: Redshirts, Yellowshirts Downplay Reconciliation Call

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PP RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHCHI #0132/01 2610718
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 180718Z SEP 09
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1152
INFO RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 1236

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHIANG MAI 000132

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NSC FOR WALTON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON PHUM TH
SUBJECT: REDSHIRTS, YELLOWSHIRTS DOWNPLAY RECONCILIATION CALL

CHIANG MAI 00000132 001.2 OF 002


Sensitive but unclassified; please handle accordingly.

-------------------------------
Summary and Comment
-------------------------------

1. (SBU) According to both anti-government redshirt and
anti-Thaksin yellowshirt groups based in Chiang Mai, the joint
private sector-academic community's call for political
reconciliation to facilitate economic recovery issued in August
was "misdirected" and does not carry any weight. While both
sides expressed a willingness to sit down and work through their
differences, neither expect the joint statement to have any real
effect on Chiang Mai's economy. For their part, redshirt
leaders see the statement as one-sided, blaming them for
Thailand's ills, while the yellowshirts wonder why the statement
named them, arguing they have done nothing to cause trouble for
local communities in Chiang Mai.

2. (SBU) Comment: While admirable, the joint efforts of the
private sector and respected academics are unlikely to put a
stop to redshirt and yellowshirt antagonism in Chiang Mai. Even
if they could, we doubt that an economic revival would take root
as a result. Though groups on both sides have caused local
disturbances, blame for the downturn in northern Thailand's
tourism sector rests more with the global recession (and
influenza worries) than clashes. Nonetheless, representatives
of one redshirt and one yellowshirt group confirmed to us they
will hold a low-profile meeting the week of September 21 to see
if they can find some common ground. End Summary and Comment.

--------------------------------------------- -------------
Private Sector, Academics Call for Compromise
--------------------------------------------- -------------

3. (U) At an August 11 press conference, the Presidents of
seven local universities and representatives from several
business groups -- including the Federation of Thai Industries,
the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce, Chiang Mai Tourism Business
Association, and the Thai Hotel Association -- issued a public
statement calling on all political groups to put their
differences aside to "build unity for economic confidence for
Chiang Mai". The statement asserts that activities of political
groups have had a negative impact on investment in the province,
as well as the tourism and export sectors. It affirms support
for the peaceful expression of political views, repudiates
violence, calls for law and order to be respected and law
enforcement to be carried out equitably, and appeals for
political groups not to obstruct the government's efforts to
provide services to the people.

4. (SBU) Payap University President Dr. Pradit
Takerngrangsarit, who signed the statement on behalf of the
seven university presidents, told us that the initial draft of
the statement read like an anti-redshirt diatribe, and he had
impressed upon his colleagues that for the statement to be
effective, it needed to be more balanced. The final version
names neither redshirt nor yellowshirt groups, and in our
estimation, is objective. (We will e-mail the statement to
Embassy Bangkok and EAP/MLS.) Nevertheless, groups on both
sides have criticized the text, claiming that it singles them
out, blaming them for Chiang Mai's economic woes.

5. (SBU) Private sector contacts spearheading the effort
asserted that they were spurred on by a 50-70 percent drop in
Chiang Mai's tourism-related business since the April 2009
redshirt riots in Bangkok. They therefore reached out to the
presidents of seven local universities, who expressed support
for their reconciliatory efforts. The aim of the press
conference, they said, was to get both sides to keep their
political differences from negatively impacting Chiang Mai's
economy. The opposition redshirts' disruption of the late
August visits to Chiang Mai of the Finance and Commerce
Ministers was, in their view, the last straw. While skeptical
about the likely impact of their efforts, these contacts hope
that the website they launched shortly after the press
conference (http://www.peacechiangmai.com) will help raise
public awareness of the political conflict's impact on the
economy.

--------------------
Redshirts React
--------------------

6. (SBU) The leader of the Rak Thaksin (Love Thaksin) redshirt
group reacted harshly, noting that Chiang Mai's economic
difficulties were a function of the global economic crisis
rather than redshirt-spawned instability. If investment and
tourism in Thailand are down overall, he asserted, the decline

CHIANG MAI 00000132 002.2 OF 002


will affect Chiang Mai too. He also claimed that several of the
contributors to the statement are known to be sympathetic to the
anti-Thaksin yellowshirts.

7. (SBU) For his part, the editor of the pro-redshirt "Red
Front" magazine questioned the timing of the statement,
wondering why Chiang Mai businesses were feeling the pinch now,
but failed to speak up during the November 2007 seizures of
Bangkok's two airports by the yellowshirt People's Alliance for
Democracy (PAD) or the redshirt riots in Bangkok and surrounding
areas in April 2009. Meanwhile, the grassroots Confederation
for Democracy highlighted the need for Chiang Mai law
enforcement authorities to crack down with equanimity on both
sides, noting that while action was taken against the region's
pro-redshirt community radio stations in the wake of the April
2009 riots, none was taken against the area's pro-yellowshirt
community radio station for broadcasts in which it incited
violence.

--------------------------------------------- ----
Yellowshirts Somewhat Less Displeased
--------------------------------------------- ----

8. (SBU) Three Chiang Mai figures associated with the
pro-yellowshirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) also
shared their views with us. The leader of the Campaign for
Popular Democracy said he did not see what blame the PAD bore
for the economic downturn, aside from the broadcasts of one
community radio station claiming to represent the PAD that have
on occasion incited violence. Our contact characterized the
operator of that station as "an opportunist," saying he is not a
true PAD supporter.

9. (SBU) A pro-PAD journalist viewed the reconciliation effort
as ineffective, arguing that the academics and private sector
representatives wanted merely to be seen as taking some action
to arrest the region's economic slide. He pointed out that the
heads of several organizations that signed the public statement
failed to appear at the press conference, perhaps out of fear of
retribution by redshirt groups. Though he supports tolerance of
different opinions, he opined that pro-reconciliation stickers
and the Peace Chiang Mai website were insufficient to get the
message across. He suggested that the radio stations of
participating universities use airtime to actively promote
political reconciliation, and that universities allow overtly
political meetings to be held on their campuses as a sign of
commitment to the effort. (Note: Payap's Dr. Pradit was
non-committal when we asked if his group would attempt to broker
a reconciliation meeting between Chiang Mai's redshirts and
yellowshirts.)

10. (SBU) Another local PAD figure, who is also a businessman,
and who lays blame for the downturn in Chiang Mai's tourism
squarely on the redshirts, opined that the statement will not
have a strong impact because it does not specify who needs to
reconcile with whom. He asserted that what was really needed
was greater pressure on local law enforcement authorities to
take decisive action against Chiang Mai's redshirts. He also
highlighted the need to restrict political content on community
radio stations, so as to prevent them from being used to foment
political disunity. (Note: Northern groups on both sides of the
spectrum have used their community radio stations to incite
violence.)

11. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Bangkok.
MORROW

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