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Cablegate: Round-Up: Pad Cancels Rally; Red-Shirts Splintering?

DE RUEHCHI #0008/01 0151409
P R 151409Z JAN 10



E.O. 12958: N/A


CHIANG MAI 00000008 001.2 OF 003

Sensitive but unclassified; please handle accordingly.


Summary and Comment


1. (SBU) On January 9, the generally pro-government Peoples'
Alliance for Democracy cancelled a rally it planned to hold in
Chiang Mai on January 16 in order to avoid violent clashes with
anti- government red-shirts. Meanwhile, the localized
reconciliation effort brokered by academics and private sector
representatives involving one of the Chiang Mai red-shirt
factions began yielding results, even as local red-shirt leaders
took steps to present a more united front in the face of
obvious internal divisions.

2. (SBU) Comment: For the second time in less than two months,
local red-shirt groups have prevented their opponents from
gathering in Chiang Mai. Their violent rhetoric with intent
to rally thousands first led to the cancellation of Prime
Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's planned November 29, 2009 visit to
Chiang Mai (Ref B). Now, in order to avert violence with them,
the local Peoples' Alliance for Democracy (PAD) had to cancel a
key political gathering. We will stay alert for signs that
these two outcomes are having an impact on the local
reconciliation talks, which may not be sustainable over the
long-term if the cards continue to fall the red-shirts' way.

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3. (SBU) Comment Cont.: On the other hand, increasingly violent
rhetoric on the part of the red-shirts may be a sign of
weakness. If they were able to draw large numbers to rallies,
they might not have to rely on a war of words designed to
incite violence. Similarly, although the cancellation of
Abhisit's visit and the PAD concert handed short-term victory
to the red-shirts, the fact that dialogue between some local
red- shirts, yellow-shirts, civil society and the Provincial
authorities succeeded in averting violence this time is a very
positive sign. End Summary and Comment.

--------------------------------------------- --

PAD Cancels Rally; Red-Shirts' Move Ahead

--------------------------------------------- --

4. (U) On January 9, representatives of the PAD announced the
cancellation of their planned January 16 "political concert,"
which had been scheduled to take place at Chiang Mai's main
sports stadium. Local PAD leaders cited several reasons for
the decision: concerns over the safety of the audience given
concurrent red-shirt activity at the same venue (several
red-shirt groups will participate in the fireworks festival,
which will take place at the same time); a desire to prevent
their event "falling victim to those who want to use it to
foment violence"; and concerns the police will be unable to
provide adequate security due to visits by several members of
the Royal Family scheduled at the same time.

5. (SBU) Privately, PAD contacts told us they were concerned
about the economic impact on Chiang Mai had violence erupted
during the concert. (We note that January is the height of the
tourist season in Chiang Mai.) A red-shirt leader told us on
January 7 that violence would be unavoidable were the PAD
concert to go ahead as scheduled.

6. (SBU) Meanwhile, a red-shirt rally on December 29-30 at the
same stadium went ahead as planned with approximately 2,000
participants. This time, the atmosphere was more festive and
less overtly political, with entertainment seemingly taking
precedence over content. The rally was peaceful, with only a
handful of Bangkok-based speakers in attendance. The only minor

CHIANG MAI 00000008 002.2 OF 003

inconvenience resulted when participants created a traffic jam
on their way to the event, which made sections of a key road
used to access some main local attractions impassable, angering
some tourists.


Red-Shirts Splintering?


7. (U) In the meantime, just as Prime Minister Abhisit
cancelled his November 29 visit to Chiang Mai (Ref B), two
competing red-shirt groups announced their formation, with both
using the popular Three Kings Monument as their pulpit. On
November 28, Peerapol Morakot launched the Chiang Mai Red
Coordinating Center (AKA Democratic Red). In his speech, he
expressed strong opposition to the current governing coalition,
calling PM Abhisit a "puppet of dictators and aristocrats,"
while noting that his group would only express its views

8. (SBU) A red-shirt leader with connections to this group told
us its network currently spans over half of Chiang Mai's
districts. He stated that most of its members view the three
core red-shirt leaders Veera Musikapong, Jatuporn Prompan and
Nattawut Saikua as focused on short-term tactics, but lacking a
long-term strategy for change. Among the 150-200 in attendance
that day was the leader of the Chiang Mai branch of the
"Thaksin Lovers" group, who earlier participated in the
reconciliation dialogue, but withdrew in the face of threats by
Rak Chiang Mai 51 (RCM51 -- the red-shirt group with the most
violent tendencies).

9. (SBU) The following day, approximately 50 supporters (RCM51
leader Phetcharawat Wattanapongsirikul among them) attended the
rally launching the Lanna Red Council, which purports to
represent all red-shirt groups in Thailand's eight upper north
provinces. Charut Pratwirakul was named as its head, and the
Council laid down five key principles that would guide its work:
safeguard the nation, religious institutions and the Monarchy;
strive for a democracy free of intervention; fight injustice;
protect "good citizens" who make "remarkable contributions" to
the country; and defend good governance. According to military
and police contacts, the Council enjoys the backing of key
opposition Phuea Thai (PT) MPs, including Sanguan Pongmanee from
Lamphun Province, Boonsong Teriyapirom from Chiang Mai, and
former PM (and Thaksin brother-in-law) Somchai Wongsawat.

10. (SBU) Military contacts and a red-shirt leader affiliated
with the Red Coordinating Center told us the Lanna Red Council
was formed to try to bridge the gap between northern red-shirt
groups, which they contend are repudiating violence in greater
numbers. Splits like this within the red-shirt movement could
weaken the PT support base in the north, our contacts opined,
leading key PT MPs to support the Council in an attempt to
present a united front. Separately, an RCM51 representative
visited an ailing member of the Chiang Mai Red Coordinating
Center in the hospital, encouraging him to return to RCM51 in
an effort to unite all northern red-shirt groups under one
umbrella. (Note: RCM51 is not involved in the Chiang Mai Red
Coordinating Center (CRCC). The ill CRCC leader used to belong
to RCM51.)


Dialogue Yields Results


11. (SBU) Meanwhile, the Coalition for a Peaceful and Livable
Chiang Mai has met twice since Abhisit's aborted November 2009
visit to Chiang Mai. New faces were present at the December
meeting, including local media, representatives of the
Government Workers' Association, and Chiang Mai War Veterans.
Participants exchanged views on prospects for avoiding political
violence in 2010 in Chiang Mai, which pundits expect will be an
active year for red-shirt protests nation-wide. They also set

CHIANG MAI 00000008 003.2 OF 003

about planning the coalition's activities for 2010.

12. (SBU) Members agreed to involve religious leaders and
academics to a greater degree in the group's work, taking
advantage of their ability to mediate and lay down ground rules
for political expression/conflict resolution. They also
discussed the idea of a year-long campaign on "Building a
Mindful Democracy". Attendees were tasked with bringing specific
proposals to the table by February for the group to consider,
with the key aim of involving all sectors of society as the
dialogue moves forward. Toward the end of the meeting, PAD
representatives raised concerns over lax law enforcement, which
they argue allows red-shirts to intimidate the PAD and prevent
it from holding gatherings. (Note: This meeting took place
before PAD's decision to cancel its January 16 concert.)

13. (SBU) At a January 7 meeting between provincial authorities
and several members of the coalition, PAD representatives
agreed to consult with their leadership in Bangkok about the
possibility of cancelling their January 16 concert in an effort
to avoid violent clashes with red-shirt groups participating in
the fireworks festival. Both events were slated to take place
at the same venue.

14. (SBU) Despite the eventual cancellation of the concert, PAD
leaders continue to insist on respect for their right to
peaceful freedom of assembly. Provincial authorities gave PAD a
face-saving means of cancelling its concert by agreeing to
negotiate with the Sports Authority on PAD's behalf to have
PAD's (generally non-refundable) deposit on the stadium
returned. Provincial authorities also announced plans to hold
a cross-cultural and inter-religious reconciliation-oriented
event on January 23. We will request information on this event
from the Provincial Government at the earliest opportunity.

15. (SBU) For its part, the Consulate collaborated with PA
Bangkok to stage a DVC with Dr. Robert Albritton from the
University of Mississippi to share some lessons from the U.S.
experience with participants in the reconciliation process. 30
politicians, NGOs and civil society activists joined the event.
Dr. Albritton focused on the need for all parties to respect
election results, and to work for change without disrespecting
the rule of law. This program built on Dr. Larry Berman's very
successful presentation last year on the role of opposition
parties and non-party political actors in a democracy (Ref C),
and is the latest in a string of Consulate efforts to foster
understanding and more open communication between political
groups in northern Thailand. Members of both red-shirt and
yellow-shirt groups attended, as did local government
officials, representatives of Muslim organizations and the
media. The discussion was very lively, covering topics such as
government accountability, minority rights, public opinion, and
sustainable decentralization.

16. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Bangkok.

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