THAILAND LETTER: A day in the Buddhist Peacemaker Team camp
[Note: With the support of the CPT-Philippines regional group, CPTer Rey Lopez traveled to Thailand as a peace observer to document how the Red Shirts nonviolent movement is playing out in Bangkok. The letters have been edited for length and clarity.]
The Buddhist Peacemaker Team camp was located in Sunam Luang Park in front of the Thammasat University. It was a big camp manned by at least thirty monks, the majority of the monks coming from the Buddhist Temple in Pattaya under the leadership of The Venerable Rev. Doctor Tuanchai, rector of the Buddhist college in Pattaya. They were doing their morning Buddhist worship joined by at least two dozen Thai Red Shirts, feeding the Thai people who chose to stay in the monksâ€™ Peace Tent.
The Buddhist Peacemaker Team is an attempt coming from different Buddhist Temples and Buddhist individuals who are on called by both the Red Shirts and the Thai authorities whenever violence threatens to erupt between the Red Shirts and the Thai government and other pro-government organizations like the Yellow Shirts, Pink Shirts, as well as the No Color shirts.
The group was convened by the Venerable Rev. Dr. Tuanchai, who believes in the nonviolent settlement of disputes and have as their slogans Peace, Buddhism, National Security, and Monarchy. Several times in a day, they sort of mediated between the Red Shirts, police, Thai army, Yellow Shirts, Pink Shirts, and No Color shirts. They are divided in groups of five and are on call 24 hours a day. Twice a day, they have Buddhist worship in the tent joined by many Thai Buddhist devoteesâ€”mostly Red Shirts. They continuously receive donations of food, water, and other supplies from the devotees,
The Venerable Rev. Dr. Tuanchai, who speaks good English, welcomed me upon learning that I was with Christian Peacemaker Teams. [When I told him I] lost my cell phone and my laptop, he instructed his assistant to provide me with communication equipment and space inside the Buddhist Peace tent in Sunam Luang Park.
Twice a day, patrons of the Buddhist monks will bring cooked food. After the monks have eaten, the rest of food is distributed to the faithful, with the monks and some lay Buddhists, both men and women, acting as servers. In front of the tent are two donation boxes where the faithful make monetary donations in while a statute of the Buddha smiles down on them, after which, the monks standing at the donation box will chant a prayer to the donors. Later on, groups of devotees gather in front of their favorite Buddhist monk, sitting down while the monks deliver a sort of a short homily.
On my third day staying with the monks, I was given a statement of the Buddhist Peacemaker Team, which is an affirmation of their non-violent philosophy and their decision to be with the Thai Prachachons in their struggle for true democracy. Everyday, more and more monks were arriving from all over Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. They were all given assignments to be in a certain critical areas in Bangkok where possible violence may occur between the Red Shirts and the Thai authorities. I accompanied them in a part of Lumpini Park where we mediated possible violent conflict between the Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts.
After Bloody Saturday, April 10, 2010, a decision was made by the Red Shirt leadership to move their main camp to Rajaprassong. The presence of several Thai and police camps near Fang Fa Bridge and the presence of several canals made it vulnerable to a commando attack by the Thai Navy Seals. The division of the Red Shirts into two camps made it harder to defend. The decision to concentrate its force in Rajaprassong is strategic since the place is adverse to a military solution but favorable to a political solution with the Thai government. Rajaprassong is the main commercial and financial district of Thailand, the vital financial spinal column of the country with the second biggest gross national product in Southeast Asia. Almost all of the foreign embassies are located in this area.
The Buddhist Peacemaker Team visited all the embassies in Bangkok with a letter/ petition stating what they saw on Bloody Saturday when the Thai Army fired on against the unarmed Thai people. I also helped the Buddhist monks in translating their other press releases to the western press, which most of the time is biased against the Thai Red Shirts except for the French agency, which reported accurately the shooting down of unarmed Thai people. After this reporting, the other western news agencies started to make certain adjustments to reflect the Thai army carnage on Bloody Saturday.
Three days after Bloody Saturday, the Red Shirts invited the Buddhist Peacemaker Team to do the memorial service of those killed. There were at least two dozen coffins draped with the red cloth displayed on the central stage. Displayed nearby were fifteen Humvees and other armoured vehicles and rifles, machine guns, bullets, gas bombs, batons and shieldsâ€”courtesy of Uncle Sam from our tax moneyâ€” all captured from the Thai army by the Red Shirts.
There was an air of solemnity and celebration in the air at the same time but I fear that the worst is yet to come. Unless the Thai Red Shirts mobilize people in the hundreds of thousands in Bangkok, the Thai armyâ€”trained and armed by the most powerful Empire on the earthâ€”will decimate them in order to protect the present imperial relationship between Thailand and the United States that favors the Thai elite and safeguards the geo-political interests of the U.S. in the Asia mainland.
When I asked one of the monks why they are with the Red Shirts, he told me in broken English that the Buddha teaches them to be with their people in the presence of an unjust ruler. He also added that compassion for the poor is one of the important teachings of the Buddha to which I added that that is also the teaching of Jesus Christ. The young monk added that that must be the reason I was with them, for Buddhists and Christians have a lot in common.
There is an urgent need for solidarity organizations and the non-violent movements all over the world to report what is happening in Thailand accurately. There is also an urgent need as stated by the leadership of the Red Shirts for international peace organizations to send international peace observers to Bangkok who can stand in solidarity with the Thai people in their fight for genuine democracy.
Let us continue praying for the Thai people in this difficult time in their history.
Please share with others.
Reynaldo C. Lopez