Newsmaker: Thailand’s renegade "Commander Red" dies

By Martin Petty

BANGKOK (BestGrowthStock) – With his hardline stance and combative rhetoric, it was only a matter of time before renegade Thai soldier Khattiya Sawasdipol became a victim of the same military tactics he preached to his rebellious followers.

The Rambo-esque, self-styled warrior who commanded the guards of the “red shirt” anti-government protest movement died in hospital on Monday, after being shot in the head last week in an incident that fueled the latest violence in Bangkok.

“Seh Daeng” (Commander Red) was shot while being interviewed by Thai and foreign reporters near the medieval-like barricades built of tires and bamboo staves he designed in a high-end shopping district that protesters have occupied for five weeks.

The shooting, on Thursday, took place just hours after the army began a blockade of the protest site.

A household name and best-selling author who once threatened to hurl poisonous snakes and grenades at rival “yellow shirt” demonstrators, Khattiya bragged about battles with communist insurgents and close connections with Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted former premier regarded as the de facto red shirt leader.

The rogue major-general was loved as much as he was loathed.

Branded a dangerous terrorist by Thai authorities, he was revered by his cultish followers as a swashbuckling military hero with 20 battlefield kills to his name.

The army specialist was blamed by the government for dozens of grenades attacks that have wounded more than 100 people.

Khattiya’s unyielding stance, and the respect he commanded among hundreds of red shirt guards, ensured he was never far from controversy.

“If it’s up to me, I think we should fight until next December or until the prime minister is in jail,” he told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday, dressed in trademark camouflage fatigues with a canteen and a hat decorated with hand-grenade pins.

The officer, once forced to lead aerobics classes as punishment for his indiscipline, was widely considered a loose cannon mistrustful even of other red shirt leaders.

“The current leaders are colluding with the government,” he said on Tuesday.

The government believed he may have helped to recruit and train shadowy black-clad gunmen accused of involvement in bloody April 10 clashes between troops and protesters that left 25 dead and more than 800 wounded.

He denied responsibility and criticized the military for botched tactics, warning fellow soldiers to steer clear of the protest site or face the full force of hundreds of guards willing to die in battle.

His defiance and belligerence made him an easy target for authorities seeking to publicize militancy among the protesters.

But his hawkish comments also worried the red shirt leaders, who distanced themselves from him when he called for setting up a “people’s army” to fight against the military-backed government.

“We don’t need heavy weapons. If we keep going like this, they cannot clear us out,” he said. “It would become a true people’s revolution because we won’t take it without a fight.”

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(Additional reporting by Chalathip Thirasoonthrakul; Editing by Jason Szep and Alex Richardson)

Newsmaker: Thailand’s renegade “Commander Red” dies