INTRODUCTION: Communist guerrillas are stepping up their operations in Thailand, imposing their heaviest casualties yet on Thai government troops.
INTRODUCTION: Communist guerrillas are stepping up their operations in Thailand, imposing their heaviest casualties yet on Thai government troops. The fighting is restricted mainly to the villages and jungles of eastern and southern Thailand, but the message is being driven home to Thais living in the cities, with mass cremations of soldiers killed in action, like one that was held in Bangkok on Thursday (7 April).
SYNOPSIS: The caskets, containing the remains of 554 people killed last year in operations against Communist guerrillas, were brought to one of Bangkok's largest Buddhist temples for the cremation ceremony. Since the Communists stepped up their operations with the start of the dry season last November, government troop casualties have been the heaviest since the beginning of the insurgency war 11 years ago.
King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit joined high-ranking government officials, top military officers and foreign diplomats who attended the ceremonial tribute. A similar ceremony was held last year to cremate more than four hundred people killed during anti-guerrilla operations. The army has stepped up their activity, mainly in the south, where an estimated 1,000 well-armed Communists virtually control the Banthad mountains which straddle the border with Malaysia. Still, the Thais have only 10,000 troops engaged in anti-guerrilla operations out of a total army of 150,000.
King Bhumibol's lighting of the taper to start the cremation of the remains of the soldiers and policemen shows the government emphasis on the psychological war also being waged against the insurgents. It brings to people living in the city an idea of the struggle that is going on in the countryside. The government is carrying out a propaganda campaign to win the "hearts and minds" of the peasants, to counter increased Communist influence in the villages. Thailand also faces frequent raids from neighbouring Cambodia, in the east, and occasional exchanges of fire across the border with Pathet Lao troops from laos, to the north. Extravagant ceremonies like this give the Communists an indication of their success, while the insurgents in turn invariably carry away their dead, denying the Thai authorities the propaganda opportunities of showing their bodies to the Press.