Rayong residents rebel against ‘red shirt village’

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Rayong residents are rebelling against plans to open a “red shirt village” near the Maptaput industrial estate, accusing members of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship of sowing dissension and intolerance in an otherwise-moderate province.

Two community-activist groups protested May 26 at a ceremony to designate Plaeng as a “red shirt village,” or community aligned entirely to support the UDD, the red-shirt anti-government protest movement and fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

On one side of the road are red shirt supporters… On one side of the road are red shirt supporters…

After spreading rampantly through Thailand’s northeast last year, the village campaign has hit resistance as red-shirted political operatives try to push their agenda southward. A roadside pavilion at a newly-established red-shirt village in Songkhla’s Chana District was torched May 15 and hundreds of Phuket residents have taken to the street in the past two weeks to protest new villages there.

Rayong red-shirt movement leaders Thanes Chaanloha and 80-year-old Yanyong Sawatthaworn claim they hoisted a red banner over Plaeng as a way to promote democracy, participation in government policy and fight drugs, but members of the Krabaeng Thong and We Love Rayong groups say the plan incites dissent, divides people along color-tinged political lines and could lead to violence akin to the deadly Bangkok riots of 2010.

Rayong police obviously think the same, as they were out in force as more than 100 Krabaeng Thong members drove through town imploring residents via loudspeaker to join them at Yanyong’s storefront, headquarters of the red-village movement.

… and on the other side are Rayong residents who oppose a red shirt village in their town.… and on the other side are Rayong residents who oppose a red shirt village in their town.

There, protestors called on “Uncle Yong” to remove all traces of the red-shirt allegiance. They claimed the red shirts disrespect the opinions of village residents who may not support them. The movement, said group leader Visanu Kaetsuriya, is destructive to unity and harmony in the province.

Opponents also turned out at the official opening ceremony later May 26, where 500 red-shirt supporters gathered to swear their allegiance. Police were on site to ensure the confrontation didn’t turn violent.

Red-shirt leader Anont Saennan said the red-shirt village was a symbol of strength for villages and that everyone would enjoy equal rights. He said the designation would benefit the residents by allowing it to participate in cooperatives of red villages throughout the country and promote small- and medium-sized businesses. He denied the village would create division in society.

There are now more than 12,800 red-shirt villages in Thailand, mostly in poor, rural Issan, the stronghold of the UDD and the ruling Pheu Thai government, headed by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck.

Rayong opponent Sombut Tanthonpaibun said, however, Rayong is different than Issan and a red-shirt village is not needed here.