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1976 Massacre: Thailand to Mark 40th Anniversary of its Darkest Day

In 1976, the violence was seen as a backlash by right-wing groups and ultra-royalists after student protests of October 1973

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FILE - In this Oct. 6, 1976 file photo blood streaming down his face, a leftist student, center, wounded and captured by police is helped to an ambulance at the Thammasat University campus in Bangkok, Thailand. VOA

In Bangkok’s predawn light Thursday, activists and former students will give alms to Buddhist monks, an act of remembrance for the dozens of students killed and injured in a bloody massacre by right-wing thugs and authorities on October 6, 1976.

The events surrounding the 40th anniversary of the tragedy, seen by many as the darkest day in modern Thai political history, includes conferences, art works, plays and cultural events and come amid heightened political sensitivities in Thailand under a ruling military government since May 2014.

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Overall the military government is allowing most events to proceed, although under careful watch. But authorities at one of Bangkok’s international airports blocked the arrival Wednesday of Hong Kong democracy advocate Joshua Wong.

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, center, shows the letter from Thailand Immigration office after arriving at Hong Kong airport from Bangkok, Oct. 5, 2016.
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, center, shows the letter from Thailand Immigration office after arriving at Hong Kong airport from Bangkok, Oct. 5, 2016. VOA

Pandit Chanrochanakil, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said the authorities’ move to block Wong from attending a conference was disappointing.

“This morning Thai authorities detained Joshua Wong, who was invited to give a talk at Chulalongkorn University tomorrow, which is so sad because he is someone people had been waiting to hear what we can do for the current situation for democratization,” Pandit said.

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Amnesty International said Wong’s detention highlighted the Thai Government’s willingness to suppress the right of freedom of expression. Amnesty added it also raised concerns over China’s influence over Thai authorities.

1976 massacre

In 1976, the violence was seen as a backlash by right-wing groups and ultra-royalists after student protests of October 1973 that had led to the overthrow of former military dictator Thanom Kittikachorn, who fled into exile. But students rallied again in 1976 to protest of Thanom’s return to the country.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said the events for Thailand in 1976 came amid the conflict in Indo-China as the nation’s traditional institutions were challenged by the Cold War. “But it came at a high cost and the cost was the killing and maiming of many dozens of young men and women on the 6th of October at Thammsat University,” Thitinan said.

“It was a scar on the Thai collective psyche and at the time the leftist movement was initially an anti-military movement. But then it warped into a kind of anti-establishment movement because the establishment was seen siding with the military dictatorship from 1973 by letting in a military dictator,” he said.

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The brutality of the day has become etched in the public domain with the publishing of an Associated Press (AP) photo depicting a dead student hanging from a tree and being beaten while a crowd of onlookers watched.

Former student, Thongchai Winnichakul, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, told Thai media the events of 40 years ago continue to haunt him. “There’s not a single day that October 6 doesn’t cross my mind,” Thongchai said.

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Kraisak Choonhavan, a former senator and rights advocate, said the images had a profound impact on the global community. “This one area should be noted that after the violence the horrific shock that the world felt, how the opposition that was particularly young, was treated,” Kraisak said.

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 1976 file photo, police stand guard over leftist Thai students on a soccer field at Thammasat University, in Bangkok, Thailand. For some Thais, the bloody events of October 6, 1976 are still a nightmare. On that day, heavily armed s
FILE – In this Oct. 6, 1976 file photo, police stand guard over leftist Thai students on a soccer field at Thammasat University, in Bangkok, Thailand. For some Thais, the bloody events of October 6, 1976 are still a nightmare. On that day, heavily armed. VOA

Chris Baker, a commentator and writer on Thai history, says the 1976 events highlighted the coming together of conservatives in Thai society.

“Conservative figures in Thai society joined forces in a way they probably hadn’t done before in opposition to what they saw as a combination of not just the left wing, the students and the communists in the jungle, but also the new liberal side of Thai society in emerging politics,” Baker said, including a “frightened middle class.”

Baker says there are parallels between the events of 1976 and those leading up to the May 2014 coup and ouster of the populist government led by Yingluck Shinawatra.

“That moment is really very important now in retrospect because it’s very much the precursor of 2014, of the coup that we have just seen and which we are still living under, which in some ways it really does mirror and mimic many of the events and forces and underlying currents at that time,” he said.

He said in recent years the importance of the 1976 events have been played down but, “Since 2014 it’s been realized just how important and formative it was.”

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Analysts say Thailand’s political evolution appears caught in a cycle of elections to eventually see governments toppled by military takeovers.

The current government recently received public backing through a referendum for a new constitution, with promises of elections in late 2017.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks during a news conference after his meeting with National Security Council as Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan looks on at Government House in Bangkok, Aug. 15, 2016.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks during a news conference after his meeting with National Security Council as Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan looks on at Government House in Bangkok, Aug. 15, 2016. VOA

Chulongkorn University’s Pandit said not all Thais agree with the holding of commemorations, given the unsettling knowledge of the bloodshed 40 years ago.

“It’s hard to tell people that we have no other choice, we have to remember what we have done as a society,” he said.

“So for us, those who support the idea of commemoration, we believe that [remembering] the history of the October 6 massacre will teach us something, will give us some light to get out of the darkness,” he said. (VOA)

  • Enakshi Roy Chowdhury

    this was a tragic day… R.I.P. their soul

Next Story

Strict Conservation Laws Result in Eviction of Hundreds of Indigenous Karen People in Thailand

After the military government took charge in 2014, it vowed to "take back the forest" and increase forest cover to about 40 percent of the total surface area from about a third.

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Salween River
A view of the Salween River is seen from a small Thai-Karen village on the Thai side of the river, Nov. 17, 2014. VOA

Hundreds of indigenous Karen people in Thailand face evictions from a national park that authorities wish to turn into a World Heritage Site, joining millions in a similarly precarious situation as authorities worldwide push tough .

The Kaeng Krachan is Thailand’s biggest national park, sprawled over more than 2,900 square kilometers (1,120 square miles) on the border with neighboring Myanmar.

Renowned for its diverse wildlife, it is also home to about 30 communities of ethnic Karen people, who have traditionally lived and farmed there — and is on a tentative list of world heritage sites.

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Last year the country’s top court ruled that about 400 who had been evicted in 2011 had no legal right over the land. Pixabay

The United Nations’ cultural agency (UNESCO) had referred the submission back to the Thai government in 2016, asking it to address “rights and livelihood concerns” of the Karen communities, and get their support for the nomination.

The Thai government plans to respond later this year, according to campaigners.

“The communities have not been consulted or reassured on their access to the forest,” said Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri of advocacy group Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact.

“The communities are not opposed to the heritage status,” he told Reuters. “They are just asking that they not be evicted, and that their land rights are secure — because if the park gets heritage status without that, there will be a great many more evictions.”

A spokesman for the forest department did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for the U.N. human rights office (OHCHR) in Bangkok said they had recently facilitated a meeting between a rights organization working with the Karen, and Thai officials.

Worldwide, more than 250,000 people were evicted from protected areas in 15 countries from 1990 to 2014, according to Washington D.C.-based advocacy group Rights and Resources Initiative.

In India, more than 1.9 million indigenous families face evictions after their forest rights claims were rejected.

‘No legal rights’

Since Kaeng Krachan was declared a national park in 1981, hundreds of Karen — a hill tribe people thought to number about 1 million in Thailand — have been evicted, according to activists.

Last year the country’s top court ruled that about 400 who had been evicted in 2011 had no legal right over the land.

forest
In India, more than 1.9 million indigenous families face evictions after their forest rights claims were rejected. Pixabay

“The security of indigenous people in Thailand is so tenuous because they have no legal rights, and no recognition of their dependence on forests,” said Worawuth Tamee, an indigenous rights lawyer.

“The laws have made them encroachers,” he said.

A 2010 Cabinet resolution had called for recognizing the Karen people’s way of life and their right to earn a livelihood the traditional way. But this has not been implemented, said
Tamee.

After the military government took charge in 2014, it vowed to “take back the forest” and increase forest cover to about 40 percent of the total surface area from about a third.

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This has resulted in hundreds of reclamations from farmers and forest dwellers, according to research organization Mekong Region Land Governance.

“It is the biggest challenge facing indigenous people,” said Tamee. “Parks are not just for the enjoyment of city people and tourists. They are also the home of poor, indigenous people who have nowhere else to go.” (VOA)