BANGKOK, Thailand -- Marking the fifth anniversary of a disastrous coup by Thailand's U.S.-trained military, thousands of Red Shirts blocked streets on Sunday (September 18), warning against another putsch amid demands to punish the generals and politicians who were in power during anti-coup clashes in 2010 which killed 91 people.

Less than one month before the September 19, 2006 coup, the American Embassy said Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin was unlikely to stage a putsch, according to a "confidential" cable, "06BANGKOK5148," sent to the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, and elsewhere.

"The relative power and influence of the Royal Thai Army (RTA) dwarfs the other services," said the cable, dated Aug. 23, 2006, which was recently published by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

"As such, the Royal Thai Army Commander, Gen. Sonthi, traditionally wields more real power than the Supreme Commander," it said, describing the general who led the coup, and then shredded the 1997 constitution while setting up a repressive junta.

"Thailand's armed forces, which had a history of interfering in the country's politics, have not done so since 1992 and appear to be reconciled to constitutional roles of defense and security," Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce said in the cable.

"Their exposure to U.S. civil-military values through their extensive participation in IMET training deserves some credit for this transformation of their attitude towards democracy," the ambassador said, praising the U.S. International Military Education Training program which dates back to 1951.

During Sunday's rally, meanwhile, Red leaders gave speeches from a makeshift stage, and said they would end their demonstration at around midnight.

About 8,000 Reds disrupted traffic and encircled Bangkok's iconic Democracy Monument built by Italian architect Corrado Feroci who, in the 1920s, designed monuments for Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Democracy Monument displays this Southeast Asian nation's first constitution, and celebrates the overthrow of the absolute monarchy in 1932.

The Reds scheduled additional rallies elsewhere in Bangkok for Monday (September 19).

The "free capitalist" Red Shirts favor democracy and a "constitutional monarchy," and oppose Thailand's "conservative oligarchs," according to their published documents.

Officially known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, the Red Shirts wear scarlet colored clothing to display solidarity against the bloodless coup which toppled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In a nationwide July election, the Reds overwhelming supported Mr. Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, enabling her to become Thailand's first female prime minister and a handful of Red leaders to become Parliament members.

The Red Shirts now expect Mrs. Yingluck to establish tribunals to investigate and punish military officers and the previous prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva -- along with other collaborating politicians -- for their role during the army's crackdown last year on the Reds' anti-coup protest.

During the Reds' nine-week insurrection during April and May 2010, at least 91 people -- mostly civilians -- died when both sides violently clashed in Bangkok's streets.

Thousands of Reds had barricaded the capital's wealthiest intersection with bamboo spikes, barbed wire and debris, while demanding an end to Mr. Abhisit's military-backed government.

"As a posh, Oxford-educated baby-face premier, Abhisit had no time for the underprivileged," wrote Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and frequent commentator on Thailand's convoluted and violent politics.

"What he cared was how to defend the interests and power of the elitist class. When the underprivileged defied his legitimacy, he collaborated with the military and launched a most deadly crackdown against their opponents on the streets," Mr. Pavin said in an analysis published on Friday (September 16).

Prime Minister Yingluck is widely perceived as a puppet of her self-exiled brother, who is based in Dubai while dodging a two-year prison sentence for corruption during his 2001-2006 administration.

Mrs. Yingluck has chosen not to pursue the arrest of Mr. Thaksin, and instead is allowing him to devise ways of gaining a "pardon" or "amnesty" so he can return to Thailand as a free man and retrieve the $1.2 billion of his assets which were seized after the coup.

In 2009, Mr. Abhisit's foreign ministry sent the U.S. Embassy and "all diplomatic missions in Bangkok," two arrest warrants for Mr. Thaksin.

Mr. Thaksin was described in Thailand's warrants as an international fugitive with a "white-yellow" complexion, eyes with "double layers," a "thin and wide" mouth, and "square" facial features.

On the street, and in editorial cartoons, Mr. Thaksin is popularly described as "Square Face."

Mr. Thaksin's first warrant was issued on October 21, 2008 by the Supreme Court of Justice's Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions.

A second warrant was issued by Bangkok's Criminal Court on April 14, 2009.


Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of Hello My Big Big Honey!, a non-fiction book of investigative journalism. His web page is


(Copyright 2011 Richard S Ehrlich)