Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Almost killed by an M79 grenade

First photos, approximately 1 minute after the blast, I am unconscious and staring vacantly.

On May 19, after two months on the frontlines of the Red Shirt protest, I was hit by an M79 grenade and nearly lost my life.

I had changed tactics and was travelling with the army. Considering the Thai military were shooting protesters, civilians, and journalists indiscriminately (including a Canadian friend of mine who was shot three times and barly survived the trip to the hospital), it seemed sensible precaution to make.

But Red Shirt protesters, the so-called black shirts, were also armed and shooting and was I was photographing the gun battle on Ratchadamri and Sarasan just outside on Lumpini Park.

While I took cover with troops, black shirts launched a series of M79 grenades on to an empty road, two into Lumpin Park, one nears Silom, and one right onto a group of soldiers and myself.

The blast sent 24 pieces of shrapnel tearing through my back and legs, broke a number of ribs, and punctured both my lung and colon. 

Three additional pieces of shrapnel had struck the back of my head, shattered my skull, and entered my brain. A journalist would later tell me he found pieces of my skull on the ground.

I was unconscious, heavily bleeding, and my eyes were open and staring vacantly. Military medics at the scene took my pulse, couldn't find one, and pronounced me dead.

The shameless bastards also stole my camera.

Journalists soon arrived, noticed that I was attempting to breath, and rushed me to hospital.

In fact, the journalists and civilian medics made a great personal risk to help me as there was still heavy machine gun fire in the area. I am deeply grateful for what they did.

I woke up three days later in a Bangkok intensive care unit on Silm road (apparently I was already talking but I have no memory).

While I was torn up by shrapnel wounds that would take an astounding seven weeks to stop bleeding, my broken ribs were aching, and I was disoriented  from hearing loss in my left year, my head injuries were the most worrying.

Shrapnel had penetrated my skull and hit my brain. The neurosurgeon was able to removes two pieces but the third was too dangerous to remove and remains lodged in my head.

I was completely paralyzed on the entire right hand side. I also had serious trouble seeing and recognizing objects and couldn’t even recognize myself in a mirror.

Despite my injuries, I surprised everyone – including my gaggle of doctors – by checking myself out of  the hospital and hobbling away just three weeks later. 

And three months later, I have emerged with very few permanent injuries. Hearing damage, many scars, and an ugly limp, but I am walking and back at work.

So, needless to say, I am taking a break from bloging and concentrating on physiotherapy and work. 

But, considering Thailand’s political turmoil is far from over, I don’t think it will be a long break.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Weapons of the weak

All images from today's (May 18) clashes in Din Daeng between red shirts and the military snipers. 

Elements within the red shirt movement have weapons, serious weapons of war.

About five minutes after Seh Dang was hit by a sniper's bullet while walking within the red's barricade, I watched while taking cover from an intense firefight, a black-clad guard assemble an M-16 assault rifle and return fire towards the hi-rise buildings surrounding the red camp.

Unfortunately, the lights had been doused and there was not enough ambient light to take a photograph. Using a flash would have been dangerous.

Yet, what is remarkable, is that this was the first and only time I have ever seen a weapon of war. I did interview Kwanchai Poipana, a red leader in Ubon, who dramatically placed a pistol on the table in response to my question of what he would do if the red's current protest was unsuccessful. I understood the gesture as an act, convincing and one that limited my further questions, but an act with a weapon that is common in Thailand.

Despite over two years interviewing and photographing them, I have only seen one weapon of war. Despite having covered the red's last two months in Bangkok with near-daily coverage and many late nights with them, I have only seen the one.

And while I don't doubt that there are well armed elements associated with the reds, they currently are fighting an extraordinarily lopsided battle.

Sharpened sticks, erratic fireworks, noisy but useless large bamboo-made canons, sling shots, and rocks are trying to fight against snipers hiding behind sandbags and perched on rooftops.

The grim statistics back this up. Between May 13 and 17, the government reported that at least 35 people had been killed, all civilians, and at least 232 wounded. There were no military forces killed.

Were these people terrorists warranting a sniper's bullet, wouldn't the government be parading weapons of war in front of the already subservient local media?

Wouldn't there be serious casualties on the military side?

And wouldn't the masses of local and international media be filming the reds with war weapons if they had them?

While the Center for Resolution of Emergency Situations (CRES) and disgraced-former-academic-turned-shameless-government-mouth-piece Panitan have been calling the reds "terrorists', all I have seen and all the  media has really been able to capture is the determination of an angry and disenfranchised group of people willing to trade their lives for very little, if any, way of winning against the military might of the Thai army.

Note: Today was the first time I have seen this 'toy'. It makes an extraordinary boom, but hardly manages to propel an empty water bottle more than a couple feet in the air.

Note: peering around the corner looking for snipers.

 Note: Frontline protesters, with flagrant disregard for personal safety, plan their next move towards the military lines will taking cover behind a burned out garbage truck.

Note: Two men take a wounded protester, apparently shot in the left temple or ear by a sniper, to hospital by motobike.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bangkok burns

All photos from Din Deang district this afternoon (May 16th).

Note: Spotting military snipers in the buildings. Shots rang out periodically all day and there were many injuries and likely some deaths. 

Note: Molatove cocktail.

Live fire zone

All photos from today (May 15th) on Rama 4 in Bonkai district near Klong Toi.

Like many of the last posts, there is too much to say and no time but I should note one thing. I asked many of the protesters at the site what they thought was happening in Thailand. The big picture question, not just the conflict on Rama 4 road that they were engaged in and I was photographing, but what these clashes mean to them and the future of the country.

There was, of course, some variation, but the term that was most often used was 'civil war' (or songkram klanmueng - สงครามกลางเมือง)

Trying to defeat the red shirts through military means is bringing Thailand to the precipice of civil war. 

Note: The helmet was from a protester who was reportedly shot and killed by a military sniper and the man holding the helmet is pointing out where the bullet entered the helmet.

 Note: Fighting the military with fireworks.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Clashes in Bangkok

Bangkok burning; road block near Victory Monument. Residents claimed the military shot two locals on their way home. 10PM My 14th. 

Havent had much time to blog and have had to deal with the near-fatal shooting of a good friend who was shot by the military. And while there is too much to say, I can not say much at this time but will post photos in chronological order starting with May 13th and followed by today's (14th) clashes.

Some photos are graphic and might not want to be viewed by all.

Note: Seh Deang at 6:33 PM on May 13th. He was shot by a sniper at around 7PM.

Note: Motorbike taxi driver shot with a rubber bullet.

Note: Immediately after the above photo of the protester shooting fireworks, two shots rang out and a protester behind me was hit in the head and died.

May 14th on Rama 4 road:

Note: This shot was taken while trapped in the middle of a raging gunfight between the military on the BTS pedestrian bridge on Silom road and unseen, but certainly active, red shirt guards shooting M-16 (which i saw but could not photograph the night before right after Seh Deang was shot inside the red barricades) or other war rifles. There were countless thunderous explosions which reverberated and shook the buildings and might have been M79 grenades.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Nakhon Ratchaprasong

Negotiations are looking more and more likely to ease the immediate crisis and see the red's encampment in the ritzy Ratchaprasong shopping district come to an end.

And while there is certainly a chance that the peace process could be scuttled, Monday could be the end of what some are calling 'Nakhon Ratchaprasong' or 'Ratchaprasong State'.

The fact that the red's protest site has been a delineated territory with its own distinct political culture, social norms,  political hierarchy, civil service, and police force, it did warrant, even if just a little factiously, the term nakhon.

With the end in sight, I thought I would post some random scenes from in and around Nakhon Ratchaprasong over the past couple of weeks.

*Note: General Prem is being featured on the screen behind Veera.

*Note Natthawut Saikua sleeping on the stage, the time recored on my camera is 5:35am on 08/04/2010. A response to claims that red leaders were sleeping in the nearby 5-star hotels or genuine commitment?