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Nakhon Phanom During The Secret War 1962-1975

History of Isan

By Dr. Char Karnchanapee, PhD
 
Administrative staff, Analyst and Researcher
Rutgers University, New Jersey
 
Graduate:  Thammasat University (BA), Occidental College (AB, MA)                           and University of Southern California (MSc, PhD) in Political Science

char2.gif

Published with permission of the author



                       The History of Phak Isan

 

Phak Isan Geographical Setting

 

The Northeast Region, the center of the discussion, lies alone the border of Laos and Cambodia.  With approximately 25 million people out of the total population of 60 million, it is the largest and most populous region in the country.  It occupies an area of 62,000 square miles, which is one-third of the whole country.  The population of this region is about two-fifths of the entire nation.

 

The Northeast region is generally known as the Khorat Plateau, which got its name through the main city of the area, Nakornratchasima (Khorat).

The entire area is drained by the Mekong River, which forms the Thai northeastern border for 600 miles, and other branches, such as the Moon and the Chi Rivers.

 

The climate in the Northeast is quite different from that of the other regions.  The mountain ranges keep the southwest monsoons away, but the Northeast still receives much rainfall from the cyclonic storms that originate in the area from the South China Sea.

 

The History of Phak Isan.

 

For several centuries before Thai-speaking people began to arrive in the Northeast area, the Khorat Plateau was within the Angor Empire (khmer).  After Thai-speaking people began to occupy the area, the Khmers started to feel their pressure.

 

D.G.E. Hall, in his history of Southeast Asia, has written that

        . . . The shans, the Laotians and the Siamese are all descended from a parent racial group, cognate to the Chinese, which is thought to have made its first historical appearance in the sixth century B.C. . . .

 

As has been mentioned, around the thirteenth century, the Thai-speaking people overcame a Khmer outpost and established the first capital of Thai autonomous state, Sukhothai, which had formerly been occupied by Mon and Khmers.  Shortly afterwards, Sukhothai fell and two new capitals were established, Ayuthaya, the Siamese kingdom in the central region of the peninsula, and Lan Chang (or Lan-Xang) of Lao, in the mid-fourteenth century.  Later the Lao kingdom tried to expanded its territory over the northern part of Northeast Thailand and the Khmer empire continued to share the territory of the Northeast with the Laos.

 

In 1350, however,one of the Laos' great kings, King Fa Ngum, married a Khmer princess after he was forced into exile in Cambodia.  Later, he returned to unite Laos with the help of Khmer troops.  King Fa Ngum was able to take some parts some parts of the Northeastern region which were still in hostile hands. It was the first mass migration of Lao to  the Northeast region.

 

When King Fa Ngum established Laos, he also introduced Buddhism to the Lao people.  However, Maha Sila Viravong said that the main reason that the Khmer supported King Fa Ngum was that the Khmer emperor wanted him to stop Thai's (Siamese) expansion. On the other hand, it was because of the weakness of the Khmer kingdom to protect itself against Ayuthaya that it gave military support to Lan Chang.

 

Before the seventeenth century King Narai (1656-1688) ordered the two of Khmer towns of Muang Senao and Muang Khorabura to be outposts for Ayuthaya.  These outposts were renamed Nakhon Ratchasima (or Khorat).  This was the first clear evidence of Thai strength in the Northeast.

 

To prevent confrontations between Ayuthaya and Lan Chang, the two kingdoms recognized all Khorat Plateau as Thai(Siamese) boundary region.  A large number of Laotian began to migrate to the Northeast during King Fa Ngum's rein.  Later on, a large number of Laotian people around Vientiane again moved into the area extensively from Roi-Ed to Champasak to escape one of the usurper kings of Lan Chang.  Another migration to Kalasin took place later in the eighteenth century.

 

The Lao brought with them both their own culture and languages.  However, they also absorb some Khmer influence.  This is seen today in the fact that a large number of Khmer-speaking people are still left in the Northeast at Surin, Buriram and some part of the Sisaket provinces.  But significant as some of the Khmer influences were, the Northeast was becoming influenced even more by Laotian cultural, social and political ideas.  Ayuthaya and even Chiang Mai, another autonomous state up north, shared with them the common enemy of the Burmese troops from the west.  Prior to the beginning of the eighteenth century, after the reign of King Suriya Wongsa (1633-1690 or 1695), the Lao kingdom broke into three  small kingdoms: Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champasak.  Ayuthaya now became most powerful.  The Thai completely expanded her power into the Northeast much more than had been done previously.  The Northeast area became a region of interest to at least to three kingdoms:  Ayuthaya, Champasak and Vientiane.  Champasak was located on the left bank of the Mekong River, and her kingdom's territory lay in the area of the Mun (Moon) and Chi Rivers which today is in Roi-Ed, Ubon, and Kalasin provinces.  This gradually disintegrated the Northeast into five small parts. The kingdoms of this region gradually broke up into smaller units.

 

A new force, that of Burma, was now entering the scene.  In 1767, Burmese troops from the west completely destroyed Ayuthaya, and Vientiane was forced to join Burma.  Champasak, at the same time, attempted to expand it's territories into the Northeast.  In due course, the Burmese occupiers met with increasing resistance, and under General Phraya Taksin's leadership they were able to reorganize their troops and drive the Burmese out of the country.  In 1768 General Phraya Taksin, who was half Chinese and half Thai, established a new Thai capital at Thonburi and proclaimed himself the new king. Fortunately, Luang Prabang was saved because she aligned herself with the Thai kingdom.  Afterwards, the three states of Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Champasak became Thai vassals.  Since that time the Northeast, or Khorat Plateau, has remained an outer region within the Thai kingdom.

 

In 1782 a new Chakkri dynasty, ruled by King Rama I, was established in the Thai kingdom.  Thailand moved her new capital from Thonburi, which was on the left bank of the Chao Phraya River, to the present Bangkok location. In 1804, King Rama II of Bangkok placed Chao Anu of Vientiane, his personal friend, as the new king of Vientiane.  In 1827, however, when King Rama III ascended to the throne, King Chao Anu of Vientiane attempted to regain the independence of Vientiane.  With the combined support of two groups of vassal troops, King Chao Anu moved toward Bangkok for battle.  He pretended that he was going to help Thailand, which was being threatened by British gunboats.  The Laos troops were able to reach the area of Saraburi province in the Central plain of Thailand.

 

At first the Thai troops were surprised, but quickly organized themselves to fight against the Laos troops.  King Rama III ordered Vientiane completely destroyed, and deported some of the Laos people to the Central plains.  To this day, these Laos-speaking groups still remain in the area of Lopburi and Ratchaburi provinces in the Central plain.  Later on, King Chao Anu and his family were arrested, and for punishment were placed in an iron cage and subjected to public ridicule.  They died four days later.  At that time both Vientiane and Champasak were reduced in status and became vassals.  Luang Prabang also remained a Thai vassal.

 

But Thailand was to have its troubles not only from other aggressive Southeast Asian states or kingdoms.  With the nineteenth century, strong, new pressures developed from the European colonial powers, notably the French and the British.  The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1893, signed under threat of a French ultimatum, allowed the French and British to expand their territorial influence into Southeast Asia, thus halting Thai expansion. It established the present borders of Thailand.  This treaty also transferred the entire area on the left bank of the Mekong River, or what is Laos today, to France.  Later, by the treaty of 1904, both the area on the right bank of the Mekong River, Sayaboury province (opposite Luang Prabang in Laos) and Champasak (it is also called Bassac by the French) were also ceded to France.  Since that time the present borders between Laos and Thailand have remained unchanged.

 

 

        Isan history    Part III

 

The Northeast and Thailand's Quest for National  Security

 

Marshal Sarit's coup in 1957 returned military dictatorship to Thailand and the National Assembly was no longer an outlet for expressions of Northeast regionalism.  But Sarit's rise to power was not to be without its benefits to the Northeast.  Although information on the number is unavailable, his government absorbed many upwardly mobile Northeasterners.  Sarit himself was half Northeasterner.  His father, Major Thong di Thanarat, was a district officer in Nakhon Phanom province.  His mother, Mrs. Charnthip (Thanarat) Chanthasakha, was a native of Nakhon Phanom province.  Mr. Sanguan Chanthasakha, his step-brother, was an M.P. (1957-1958) and later governor of Nakhon Phanom.  Sarit obtained all of his education in Bangkok.  Perhaps as an ex-Northeasterner he occasionally recalled his regional past in government.  during this time, the government moved more directly than ever before to pay more attention to the Northeast and to provide it with new and major assistance.

 

The pro-government leaders in the Northeast called for four major steps:

        1.  An urgent short-term project to improve conditions in the Northeast should be started in order to relieve suffering and hunger there as soon as possible.

        2.  The government should draw up a long-term project like the Yankee Hydroelectric Project (renamed King Phumiphol in the North), using foreign loans as in the Central and Southern projects.

        3.  The government should establish heavy industries in the Northeast which has plenty of raw materials.

        4.  The government should increase educational facilities in the Northeast.1

 

It was obvious that, though the Northeasterners of various parties had different ideas (such as the Pridi-followers, the anti-Communist group, the Neutralists, or those favoring relations with Communist China), they all shared the common object of seeking the improvement of the Northeast region.

 

        Isan history    Part   IV

 

The Impact of Communist Pressures from Laos and Vietnam in the Northeast

 

In the 1980's, pressures from the Communist forces in Laos and Vietnam are still to have a great impact on events in the Northeast.  The current crisis in Laos and Cambodia in 1980's and after the fall of South Vietnam to Communist North Vietnam in April 1975, brought serious matters to Thailand.  She appeared threatened from both internal and external forces.2

 

To trace back the Communist threats to Thailand earlier around the end of 1961, the Thai government made two raids which resulted in numerous arrests of alleged Communist agents and supporters in several of the Northeastern towns.  The biggest of these raids was in December of 1961 when over a hundred suspects were arrested in Udon and Sakon Nakhon.  The government found out that those arrested were recruiters of villagers to the cause of Communist Separationists who wanted to effect secession of the Northeast from the rest of the country.3

 

The government also claimed that these arrests were a follow-up to the arrest of a former pro-government M.P. from Sakon Nakhon, Nai Khrong Chanhawong, who had earlier been executed as a Communist leader.  Also in the December raid, the police engaged in the first battle between government forces and indigenous Communists in Nakhon Phanom province.  ALthough stressing that those captured were Northeasterners, the government alleged that the suspects had been trained by and were under orders from the Pathet Lao.  Fears of a tie-in between a suspected Northeastern Liberation Movement and the Pathet Lao were suggested by the formation of a Thai exiles group composed of some M.P.'s from the Northeast in Xieng Khoung, Laos.  One reporter claimed that this group was plotting to take the Northeast out of Thailand and join it to Laos at a later date.4

 

As a result of these increasing threats to the Northeast, the government launched a whole series of new programs for the Northeast, and cooperation with the United States was intensified to strengthen this region.

 

        Isan History   Part  IV. 

 

The rapid change of events in the region showed not only a tremendous change in the attitude of the people of the Northeast, who were formerly firmly socialist and neutralists in political sentiment.  It showed that the Northeasterners, probably as a result of improved cultural, economic and educational opportunities, were capable of independent thought and were beginning to evidence concern over the pressures of the Communists on their villages and towns and way of life.

 

The matter of developing the Northeast takes an added importance in the light of security factor.  This has become increasingly sensitive in the last fifteen years, since the Geneva Conference of 1954 granted independence to the former French state of Indo-China.  Since then, there have been continuing efforts by Communist forces supported from Laos, North Vietnam, and Communist China to stir up discontent among the Thai villagers of the Northeast, who are often remote and sometimes isolated from the mainstream of thai society, represented by Central Thailand and symbolized by metropolitan Bangkok.  In circumstances of this kind, the villager's loyalty is usually first of all to their local community.  If their loyalty extends beyond the village, it is to the region in which their village is located, and only in some vague distant manners is there apt to be loyalty to the Thai nation as a whole.

 

Recognizing this situation and the fact that the overwhelming majority of Northeasterners are Thai-Loa ethnically and a majority are Thai-Khmere, the Communists have tried to destroy any inchoate loyalties the Northeasterners have to Thailand and to redirect them to Laos.  They have had little so far in directing these loyalties to Laos in general or more specifically to the Communist cause represented by the Pathet Loa.  Although supplied with propaganda, as well as weapons, and equipment from across the Mekong River, and using tourist tactics in some villages similar to those in the Vietnam War in the early stage of that conflict, the Communists have won few dedicated supporters. 

 

At the beginning of the 1970's up to early 1980's, the number was estimated by different sources at five thousand in a population in the Northeast of about 17 million.  In early 1980 the government estimated that they were about 10,000 communist insurgents operating in the country.5   Of this number, approximately 3,000 were thought to be in the North; 5,000 in the Northeast; 2,5000 in the South; and the remaining 500 in the Central provinces.  It has always been difficult to estimate with any accuracy the number of Thai inhabitant who support or sympathize with the armed insurgents, and the approach followed by I.S.O.C. (Internal Security Operational Command), the Thai Military's Supreme Command which was established in 1974.  I.S.O.C.'s mission currently remains as the integral agency to coordinate all military, police and civil counter insurgency operation throughout the country.  Guerrilla incidents initiated by the Thai People's Liberation Army (T.P.L.A.) showed a steady annual rise after 1974 until early 1980's when they diminished significantly in the Northeast.  Foreign analysts familiar with the C.P.T's (Communist Party of Thailand) background have reported that the leadership of the central committee in early 1980 has been suffering from a less than unanimous approach to the insurgency that has accompanied the growing dispute between China and Vietnam.6   Details of study of internal security and potential external threats from communist insurgent and the problem of rural development in the Northeast will be presented in.....Isan History  in  Part  V.

 

              

 

 

Regards;

Char Karnchanapee

http://www-rci.rutgers.edu/~karnchan/

email address     karnchan@rci.rutgers.edu

 

               Isan history   Part V

 

 The Problems of Internal Security, External and Communist Threat in the Northeast Region

A.   Introduction

 

During the late 1970's and mid 1980's the problems of neighboring countries, such as Laos and Cambodia aroused considerable concern in the Thai government in regards to the matter of internal security.  This concern was centered principally on the question of the susceptibility of the population in the Northeast region to Communist-directed subversion.  The conception of the threat was that of a build up of a cadre structure for the organization of a guerrilla war against the government.

 

The leadership of this effort was presumed to be based in areas of Laos controlled by the Pathet Lao.  The fundamental appeal of the subversive movement was alleged to be a call to separate the Northeastern provinces from Thailand and join them to a Communist Laos.  It is a fact that Communist efforts have shifted from urban groups such as workers, students, and intellectuals to farmer.  Such a shift would indicate an effort aimed toward rural rebellion.

 

During late 1963 and early 1964, rumors circulated on the Hong Kong money markets that China was using scarce American dollars and other hard currencies to purchase millions of baht, the Thai currency.  It was thought that China planned to finance an expanded subversive effort in Thailand.  The rumors seemed to be substantiated in the early 1965 when China announced the establishment, with permanent representation in Peking, of a "United Patriotic Front of Thailand" and a "Thailand Independence Movement."1

 

At the same time, reports from Thailand's Northeast, traditionally the scene of much banditry, pointed to a marked rise in political terrorism.  Assassination of police agents, school teachers and others who represented the government went up sharply in 1965 according to the Thai government.2

 

By early 1966, the terrorists themselves announced that over 150 reactionary forces had been wiped out in Sakhon Nakhon province, and while this is probably much exaggerated (official sources would admit to just 20 killings for that period), the curve of political murders was rising.  By mid-1966, 70 incidents were recorded, at least double the number of the last months of 1965, and in marked contrast to 1962, when only two or three political killings were reported to have taken place.3

 

Two warnings immediately should be noted.  The first is that, for many reasons, reliable figures regarding these incidents are not to be had, and, second, that it would be misleading to blame all the terrorism in Northeast Thailand on Communists.  The people in  the Northeastern bulge, whose patterns of trade, language, and popular culture tie them to Laos rather than Central Thailand,4  also are relatively poorer than other Thai, and they have an important historical political separatism and opposition to the central government inn Bangkok.

 

 For these reasons, Thai and other observers have for some years been saying that Bangkok should do something about the Northeast.  This has been true especially since 1962, when it became clear that parts of neighboring Laos might be in a close relationship to Communists North Vietnam, and it has been feared that Thai insurgents could reasonably expect support from outside.  This, combined with the poverty of Northeast, and its history of social protest and local rebellion, seemed to place the region in an especially vulnerable position.  The problem of the Northeast is not, therefore, simply one of Communist instigated subversion, but rather one of present day Communist exploitation of long-standing features of society and politics in Thailand over the years, such as poverty and illiteracy among the mass of common people.

 

Nevertheless, it is clear that Communists, both in China and Vietnam, do support the increasing subversive efforts, which so far have concentrated in four provinces.  These are Udon, Sakhonakorn, Ubon and Nakorn Phanom, regions where American forces are also to be found.

 

Parenthetically, this poses at least two additional problems.  First, the visible American presence may support claims that the Thai government has sold out to America5 , and second, it is more difficult to protect bases when they are located in areas of the Northeast subject to terrorism.  The more immediate problem, however, is that the classic pattern of village intimidation is taking place in parts of the Northeast where little or no security exists.

 

B.   Communist Threat in the Northeast Region

 

In the mid-1960's, Northeast Thailand was properly considered an area of strategic importance in the conflict in Southeast Asia.  The course of public affairs was dominated by the shifting winds to the east in the successor states to French Indochina.  Within these developments, the possibility of profound changes in both the internal and external politics of the country may be perceived.

 

In January of 1953, Peking proclaimed the creation in South CHina (Yunan province) of a Thai autonomous people's government, whose purpose was said to guide other neighboring Thai-speaking people in the struggle against "Western Imperialist: oppression.  Although most of the Thai people had fled south into the Indochinese peninsula during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in the wake of the military defeat by the Mongol lords of China, some had remained behind and become incorporated into the Chinese empire.  By this new pseudo Pan-Thaism, the Chinese obviously were creating yet another instrument with which to promote the shattering of contemporary Thailand.

 

The Chinese Foreign Minister, Mr. Chen Yee, declared that Thailand was on the list as a target for Communism.  He said, "We hope to have a guerrilla war in Thailand before the year is out" in 1965.6   BY the end of 1964, Thailand had come in indirect contact with Communist operations.  Now for the first time, Peking and Hanoi opened an active campaign against the Thai government, and Thailand became a target of Communist attacks originating abroad as well as within the country.  The attacks began with an appeal by the Communist Party of Thailand (C.P.T.) to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in Peking.  The C.P.T. asked for the formation of a patriotic, democratic, and united front to work against the Thai government and its AMerican backers.  Subsequently, a "Thailand Independence Movement" was formed in December 1964.

 

The aim of the movement was to "wage a struggle against United States aggression," make Thailand a genuinely "neutral"nation, and to overthrow the "reactionary" Thai central government and replace it with a "progressive" and democratic" regime.7   Furthermore, Communist CHina intensified its activity in Thailand by organizing yet another subversive organ.  In February 1965, a Thai Patriotic Front was created to supplement the "Thai Independence Movement."  In its manifesto, the Patriotic Front proclaimed its firm resolution to drive out AMerican imperialism and also to expel the reactionary government of Thailand.  A report from Hong Kong said that Communist agents had brought one million dollars worth of Thai currency to be used for bribery and other clandestine operations.  These activities only indicated one thing:  that the Communists were ready for a second operational front in Asia.

 

After the establishment of the Thai Independence Movement and the Thai Patriotic Front,a marked increase in Communist Activity was noted in Northeastern Thailand.  Apprehension grew that the Communists would seek to use all means to undermine the Thai government control of the area.  Furthermore, the Communists also had another group among which to stage subversive acts in the Northeast.  The Vietnamese minority of about 50,0000 were susceptible to their propaganda.  Although the International Red Cross had arranged the repatriation of some 9,000 Vietnamese to North Vietnam in recent years, the arrangement had been frustrated by Hanoi's refusal to cooperate.  It is believed that Hanoi wanted to keep their nationals in the Northeast as a convenient source of support for future Communist operations.

 

Acts of terrorism continued to be perpetuated in the Northeast.  In early 1965, the Thai government announced the arrest of Communist suspects.  More than fifty persons were captured.  At the same time, the Communists carried out liquidation campaigns against policemen, school teachers, and police informers.  In November 1965, in clash between the border police and the Communists, twenty-four police agents were killed.  Later, the border police patrol was able to seize Chinese and Bulgarian weapons and ammunition.  The police also found Communist documents and literature in both the Northeast and in abandoned camps somewhere near Malaysia.  It was the first time that the Communists moved out from their secure camps and began propaganda activities.  the simultaneous border aimed to place Thailand in the middle of a Communist vice.

 

After the Communist insurgency started in 1964, the number of murders notably increased.  The assassination of police agents, village head-men, and school teachers increased from six persons in 1964 to thirty in 1965.  In 1966, it was estimated that there was a monthly average of ten assassinations of government supporters by the Communists.  By early 1967, the assassination rate rose to fifteen in February and one a day after March 1, 1967.8

 

More and more, it was clear that the Communists were waging a guerrilla war in Thailand.  Hitherto, Communist activities had been on a small scale, but the guerrillas were now getting themselves better organized.  One technique of the Communists was to hold meetings among villagers in remote area.  Here they appealed for support and promised the villagers a better life under a Communist regime.

 

They also passed out leaflets and propaganda materials.  Though in 1967 the guerrillas were not engaged in a large scale war or extensive sabotage, they continually made their presence felt.  It is estimated that there were between 600 and 1,000 guerrillas inn the Northeast.

 

These guerrillas were under the leadership of the Thai Patriotic Front, which had merged with the Thailand Independence Movement by the end of 1965.9   This merger was a major step by Peking to intensify its Communist insurgency in Thailand.  The Communist-supported Front was headed by a former Thai Lieutenant Colonel named Phayom Chulanon.   Lt. Col. Phayom was a member of the National Assembly in 1948.  He fled Thailand after an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1949.  In 1958, he ran for re-election to the National Assembly but failed.  After the late Premier Sarit Thanarat, the extreme conservative anti-Communist, took over in the early 1960's, all Communist-supported Front figureheads in Thailand, such as Lt. Col. Phayom, Nai Prasert Sarp-Sunthorn and their followers fled the country.  Lt. Col. Phayom finally went to Peking and remained their to organize the Communist Front.

 

Late in the 1960's to the mid 1970's the insurgency increased steadily.  On July 24,1978, about 300 COmmunist guerrillas attacked a military base in Northeast Thailand, killing 5 soldiers and wounding 16 others.10   But the government's efforts had resulted in some success in the Northeast by 1968, which allowed in a shift in attention to the North, and the South where activists had opened a new front.  There, armed insurgents attacked villages and elements of the paramilitary Border Patrol Police (B.P.P.) in the mountainous provinces of Chinag Rai and Nan located to the South and east of the intersection of the Thai, Burmese and Laotian borders.

 

Insurgency also became an active security concern in the South, especially after the summer of 1968, when dissidents staged ambushes and held propaganda meetings in isolated villages along the Thai-Malaysian border.11   Signs of the stepped-up offensive were visible everywhere along the few good highways in the remote provinces.  While driven by theories, however, it is generally known that the government considers counterinsurgency to be the close collaboration between the police and civilians and not the armed forces.  In practice, military authorities are still in charge. On April 18, 1982, however, a government spokesman reported that, at least 40 soldiers were killed and more than 200 wounded, in the last two months of this year.12

 

In the 1980's armed insurgency, a national problem that plagued a series of Thai government and dominated police and army activities for the preceding 15 years, continued to threaten the Thai's political stability.  The Communist Party of Thailand appealed especially to people of the Northeast, including both Thai-Lao and non-Thai minorities, and of the south region.

       

In May and June 1973 the civilian political elite came together with student workers in opposition to and dissatisfaction with the dictatorial regime.  This opposition mounted in the Universities, labor organization as well as among rival military factions.  Opponents demanded a more democratic constitution and authentic parliamentary elections.  Early in October 1973, there was renewed violence, protesting the detention of eleven students arrested for handing out anti-government pamphlets.  The demonstrations grew in size and scope as students demanded an end to the military dictatorship.

 

On October 13th, 1973, more than 250,000 people rallied in Bangkok, the largest demonstration of its kind in Thai history, to press their demands against the government.  The demonstrations in October 1973, originally were not intended as the prelude to revolution.  The student union was given full credit for bringing down the military dictatorship.  In the democratic period 1973-1976, mass participation in political activity, unknown before in Thai history, had become commonplace, as had the bloodshed that attended it.  On October 6, 1976, in the midst of turmoil, a group of twenty-four officer in the high military command, led by the then commander in chief, Admiral Sangat Chaloyu, toppled the democratic regime.  The experiment with democratic government that had been born out of the violence of October 15, 1973 was brought to an end in similar violence in October 6, 1976.  Tough measures were enforced by the Military government under martial law to suppress opposition.  Hundreds and thousands of suspects, intellectuals, students, people and journalists, were rounded up for questions and their domiciles were searched.  Many fled, however, before they could be arrested, and others joined insurgent groups sponsored by the illegal Communist Party of Thailand (C.P.T.).  In 1980's the NSCT(National Student Center of Thailand), once-touted phenomenon of student power appeared to have faded from the national scene.

 

C.   The Counter-Insurgency

 

The developments in Thailand's Northeast and the Front's activity may be compared o the early stages of the Vietnam War.  Communist insurgency in the area was on the pattern of the Viet-Cong movement in South Vietnam in 1958.  It appeared that the Thai Patriotic Front intended to serve a role similar to that of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, the political organ of the Viet-Cong.

 

In the year 1965, when the Northeast turned into an area for Communist insurgency, the United States proposed a plan to transform the Thai Army into a more effective anti-guerrilla force.  American experts in guerrilla warfare were dispatched to the country to train Thai units in anti-Communist activities.  With United States training, help and equipment, the border police were expanded to 6,800 men and provincial police to 32,300, or a total increase of fifteen percent.13

 

By the end of 1966, the U.S. Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, were stationed in the Northeast and they opened three training camps for Thai infantrymen.  The United States were prepared to increase military aid to Thailand owing to the increased threat of Communist insurgency.  By the end of 1966, American military aid approximated thirty million dollars worth of supplies and equipment.

 

The trouble in the Northeast was originally treated by the Thai government as being primarily the concern of the police.  However, when the number of assassinations rose to an alarming point, the Thai government began to move army battalions into the area.  In an intensive two week drive, the Thai police, aided by army troops, killed more than one hundred Communists and arrested five hundred suspected guerrillas,  Some two thousand villagers who had been under Communist domination surrendered to the police.

 

In the Northeast, Radio Peking and Hanoi are widely received by villagers.  They are supplemented by a clandestine radio broadcast which calls itself the "Voice of the Thai People."  This illegal broadcast is believed to originate somewhere in North Vietnam or in Communist-held area of Laos.  In recent years, there has been a step-up in the radio propaganda against Thailand.  It often called for a revolution against the Thai government and denounced American imperialism.  In January 1966, the "Voice of the Thai People" celebrated the first anniversary of the Thai Patriotic Front by announcing that "the present, immediate, and urgent talk is to give all means of support wholeheartedly to the armed struggle by our compatriots in the Northeastern and the other regions of the country."14   The "Voice of the Thai People" is broadcast in the dialect of the Northeast.

 

Furthermore, radio Thailand in Bangkok and stations in other cities are not powerful enough to reach the area.  Therefore, the United Sates supplied a portable radio transmitter to the government to help counter the "Voice of the Thai People."  The United States also agreed to give Thailand a one thousand kilowatt radio station replacing the fifty kilowatt radio station of Thailand.  The new radio station is called the "Voice of Free Asia," and is a counter to Communist radio stations in Peking and Hanoi.

 

Within the past few years, under the Thai government, the Department of Public Relations, for the first time, built a television station (Channel 5) at Khon Khaen.  Aside form entertaining the people, it helps to counter clandestine radio broadcasts from Peking and Hanoi.  This television station cooperates with other television stations in using Bangkok programming.  Many of its programs, for example, Molum Mu (the Northeast drama with folk songs), Mo-lam (the Northeast folk songs), and other interesting programs are broadcast in local dialects.  The work of this important new TV station was observed by Dr. Edward W. Mill in the fall of 1969.  He stated that the station was bound to be of considerable importance in developing a feeling among the Northeasterners of their ties to the central government.132

 

Red terrorists hit nearby Udorn and Ubon, where United States fighter bombers, operating from that provincial capital, moved almost daily to strike against North Vietnam.  In the last six months of 1969, Communist assassins killed some forty villagers, headmen, teachers, and police informers in six Northeast provinces.  With steadily growing intensity, armed bands of guerrillas shot it out openly with Thai authorities, and Bangkok officials reported that of several hundred Communist infiltrators, about a third of them were Vietnamese.15

 

As mentioned before, in late nineteen sixties, the C.P.T. (Communist Party of Thailand) had about 200 to 3000 members.  There were about 5,000 active guerrillas in the Northeast in the nineteen eighties.  There were also some 50,000 North Vietnamese refugees who would be glad to return to North Vietnam.  Moreover, there was a growing pattern in Northeast Thailand of terrorist assassinations and blockading of villages with machine guns.  As is well known, the Northeast people usually are easygoing and tolerant, hardly ever insisting on their own way and disliking arguments.  Taking advantage of them, the Communists sometimes used force to obtain supplies, such as rice, from the villagers.

 

Besides the Communist threats in Northeast Thailand, early in 1980's the Thai government claimed that there were at least five hundred Communist agents of Meo tribemen and other hill tribemen throughout the whole of Thailand.  Tribal villages suspected of harboring Communist terrorists were bombed with napalm after some eight thousand villagers and those in other places nearby were evacuated to the lowlands.16   The Meos were also ordered to stop growing opium, their favorite crop.

 

The Communists capitalized on these harsh measures and propagandized the ignorant tribesmen further about the wicked ways of the government.  Meo language broadcasts were said to be emanating from Peking, and both the Meo and the Mossos in the North were wooed with gifts, including amulets and charms to ward off troubles, as well as with brand new AK-47 rifles and machine guns.17

 

After a number of ambushes of government patrols, Bangkok finally responded by beginning a counter-insurgency effort in the Northwest too, with the main emphasis on health and education improvements.  The situation in mid-1968 was regarded as serious.  However, if the government proved able to ameliorate the predicament of the tribal people, it was in a position to place the Communists on the defensive.  At this time, the terrorists threatened to cut communications between the North and the Northeast, and there was a further danger of a more serious outbreak to the Far West, along the Burmese border, where there were some twenty thousand members of the Lahu tribe, considered to be among the best fighters in Southeast Asia.  According to some reports, the Communists had been secretly training the Lahus for years in terrorist tactics.  They were ready, by the summer of 1968,, to move them in force into the Northern and Northwestern provinces, where they caused the major threats early in 1969 to the Thai government.18

 

 

1.  Pridi Reappears.

 

During January 1969, a reliable source in Hong Kong reported that the former leftist leader and former Premier of Thailand, Dr. Pridi Phanomyong,19  had been given new public prominence by Peking after a long period of relative obscurity.  This coincided with an upsurge in Chinese reporting on the Communist insurgency movement in Thailand.

 

According to thee Peking news, Dr. Pridi, who had spent most of the last twenty years as a political exile in Red China, was described as having greeting the success of China's test of a hydrogen bomb in December (1968) with a message of congratulations to Chairman Mao-Tse-tung, Vice Chairman Lin Piao, and Premier Chou En-Lai.  Peking's official recognition of him at this time led to some speculation that he might eventually be acknowledged as a key leader in the Thai Patriotic Front, with the aim of uniting all persons prepared to cooperate with the Communists.  After Dr. Pridi was received by Chairman Mao in 1965, nothing more was heard about his activities until early 1969.20

 

In response to a stepped-up campaign by Peking and the news of Pridi's reappearance on the scene, Air Marshal Dhawee Chullasupya, the Chief of Staff of Thailand's Supreme Command, in July 1969 stated that Thailand had become a major new target of Communist aggression.  He warned that the Communists, after the end of the Vietnam War, next planned to move into Thailand.21   Lieutenant General Saiyud Kerdpol, one of Thailand's top security officials, issued a report to the press saying that some two thousand terrorists were now active in the country, and approximately one thousand had been slain and some two thousand guerrillas as well as Thai police had been wounded.22

 

Moreover, psychological warfare was increasingly waged against each other.  Around the new year of 1970, thee Thai police and Communist guerrillas exchanged New Year's greetings in verse, declaring their mutual desire to destroy each other.  A Thai Police Department spokesman, Mr. Phandh Suramanee, said the Thai police had received the following poem from the Thai Communist guerrillas:

              

               When you come, we dive underground.

               When you stop, we harass.

               When you are in bad shape, we attack.

               When you run, we chase. . . .23

 

       

Thereafter, Mr. Phandh said, General Prasert Ruchirawong, Director General of Police, wrote the following poem in reply: 

              

               When you dive, we dig you up and expose you.

               When you are in bad shape, we pounce on and

               pulverize you.

              

               When you attack, we fight back.

               When you chase, we turn and bore into you.

               Because you are debased and fickle, and you

               lure the people with your wiles.24 

 

A few days after exchanging New Year's greetings, sixteen Communist terrorists attacked the United States Air Base25  at Ubol in Northeast Thailand.  Six of them were killed, and an American soldier was wounded.  The Thai Army Commander in Chief, General Praphas Charusathien, told reporters the attackers were believed to be North Vietnamese and Communist guerrillas.  Czechoslovak automatic weapons were seized after the attack.26

 

The tempo of United States' aid was stepped up as Communist pressures on Thailand intensified during the 1967-1970 period.  One of the forms this aid took was assistance with counter-insurgency measures, or ways and means to combat the infiltration, guerrilla tactics, and propaganda warfare of the Communist or Communist-led groups.  The JUSMAG, or Joint United States Military Assistance Group, originally set up in 1950, took the lead in providing some training for the Thai in how to deal with these matters.  In the economic field, the American AID extended much assistance.

 

Even with this United States aid, the Communist guerrillas were still active in the up country in 1970's.  In March of 1970, for example the Meo Communist guerrillas in one week attacked seven government posts in the Northern region, mainly inn Nan and Chiengrai provinces near the Laotian border.  According to  informed sources, the situation might deteriorate unless the Meo tribemen, many of whom supported the guerrillas, willingly or unwillingly, were moved from the region.  Those who refused evacuation would be regarded as Communist sympathizers.27

 

In addition to the programs of the United States government, a number of American universities and private foundations were preparing studies on counter-insurgency.  These included university and college advisory projects dealing with counter-insurgency and financed by various government agencies.  They included the following:

 

        1.  Academic Advisory for Thailand

        2.  Defense Department Project Jason

        3.  American Institute for Research

 

These programs involved professors from many institutions and universities across the country.28

 

Thai response to the dramatic sequence of external Communist threats during the 1980's is a study in pragmatic foreign policy adaptation.  The need for normalizing relations with China and the Indochinese neighbors became more compelling in 1975 if only because of the collapse of the non-Communist regimes in Cambodia(Modern-Day Kampuchea), Laos and South Vietnam, all in April, 1975.  In any event, the most notable foreign policy achievement of the 1970's was the establishment of diplomatic relations between Thailand and the People's Republic of China (Communist China) on July 2, 1975.

 

Thailand, one of Southeast Asia's rapidly developing nations, has been making slow progress towards a democratic system, punctuated by coups and coup attempts, the most recent in September, 1985.29   As an educated middle class emerges, civilian technocrats have been moving into public industries and private sector positions formerly dominated by military officers whose management, critics say, has often been insufficient and corrupt.  The army has defended its pervasive role on the ground of national security.  Thailand present facing the three Communist Indochinese Countries, contends daily with the threat of about 140,000-200,000 vietnamese troops in Cambodia and Laos.

 

The former Thai army Commander-in-Chief, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh,was the close associate of Prime Minister Chartichai Choonhavan, who took command in 1986.  He played an important part in the formation of a new administration under former Prime Minister Chartichai, according to civilian Politicians.  General Chartichai, a former general, says he is close to General Chavalit and respects his judgement.  Under the government counter-insurgency plan, it was reported that on January 24, 1983, 466 Communist insurgents and their dependents in Northeast Thailand surrendered to internal security forces under terms of government amnesty proclaimed December 1, 1982.30

 

M.L. Kukrit Pramoj, a former prime minister who asked American troops to leave Thailand in 1975, strongly criticized a restructuring of the country's internal security command ordered by the Commander-in-Chief, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.  He characterized some aspects of the plan as Communist-inspired.  He repeated an earlier criticism that broadening the internal security operations command by expanding its political role was tantamount to turning over parliamentary functions to a "politburo" or "presidium".

 

M.L. Kukrit said of General Chavalit "As far as I know he wants sort of Communism with the King as the head."31   Four days later, on Sunday April 12, 1987, 250 Thai rangers, a tough paramilitary border force, tried to push their way into M.L. Kukrit's home to protest his comments.  The rangers, who traveled several hundred miles from the remote Northeast in a fleet of buses, have not been disciplined, raising questions about who authorized the action.  Rangers, who are locally recruited and not trained as professional soldiers, have a widely reported reputation for violence.  A public and press outcry followed on Monday April 13, 1987.  In response, more than 400 of the country's top military officers massed at the home of General Chavalit on Tuesday April 14, 1987 to offer him their open support.  In Thai style, the combat commanders presented flowers, but the military message was clear.

 

D.   The Vietnamese Minority in the Northeast

 

In 1945-46, when the French reoccupied Indochina, the Thai government gave asylum to some 46,700 Vietnamese refugees and allowed them to live in Mekong River towns in Northeast Thailand.  The Thai government, under Dr. Pridi Phanomyong, did little to prevent the refugees from sending recruits, arms and medicines to Viet Minh forces during that period of time.32

 

However, in 1949, the Thai government became concerned about the subversive potential of the refugees and sought to control them.  Though most of the refugees were not under Communist influence when they first came to Northeast Thailand, Vietnamese Communist cadres shortly assumed control by means of physical violence.  Later, violence was replaced by economic pressures.  After the Indochina War was over, the Thai sought agreements with both the South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese regimes to repatriate the refugees.  eventually, in 1959, an agreement was reached at Rangoon between the Thai and North Vietnamese red Cross societies.33   About forty thousand refugees were sent home to North Vietnam between January 1960 and July 1964.

The Thai government, officially, has never had diplomatic relations with the Democratic republic of Vietnam, although a Viet Minh information office was allowed to operate in Bangkok from 1946 to 1950 under the auspices of Prime Minister Pridi.  While repatriation operations were going on, Hanoi had representatives stationed in Bangkok to help administer the agreement.  They returned to Hanoi when operations stopped in various Northeast Thai towns.  This arrangement appeared  to have stopped functioning when the writer was back home (in the Northeast) in 1966 and 1967; however, notices about repatriation were still posted.  Offices were staffed during the repatriation by refugees who may still be in Thailand, unless they were among those who were repatriated.

 

In quite an opposition vein, Thailand and South Vietnam maintained diplomatic relations.  The Thai government, to aid in the war against North Vietnamese aggression, provided valuable aid, including military units and long-term rice credits, to the Saigon government.  The South Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok cooperated with Thai government officials in an effort to remove as many of the refugees in Northeast Thailand to South Vietnam as possible.  From 1953 to 1963, about a thousand refugees, mostly South Vietnamese, were repatriated to South Vietnam.34

 

It was estimated that there were more than forty thousand refugees and other Vietnamese illegal entrants in Thailand in the mid-1967's.35   For these refugees, and for those who entered Thailand earlier, there is a period of adjusting to living out of their lives in Thailand.  This has probably been the hardest for the young people, quite often children of refugees.  Many of them registered in 1959 to be sent home (though they had been born in Thailand and had never seen Vietnam), expecting to perform dangerous and patriotic deeds.  Faced with the fact that North Vietnam would no longer receive them, quite a large number of refugees have sought to improve their own and their children's status in Thailand.  For example, in Nakhon Phanom province (which has the largest concentration of Vietnamese refugees in the country), about six hundred refugees have married Thais, and many of them have moved to other areas.  Thai authorities are also aware of the fact that refugee parents have in the past found it quite easy to obtain Thai birth certificates for their children by having a Thai citizen recognize them as his own.  Probably a large proportion of the thirty to fifty thousand children born to Vietnamese refugee parents in Thailand since 1946 have Thai certificates which were obtained in this manner.36

 

The U.S. Embassy supervises a number of information offices, located in the main areas in which the refugees are concentrated in Northeast Thailand.  The offices are located in typical Chinese-style shop houses, clearly identified by a sign in Thai and English, and by the flags of Thailand and the U.S.  Each office has a public reading room on the floor, where Vietnamese language materials are available to the public.  The officer in charge of the center lives with his family on the upper floor.

People of Vietnamese Descent in Thailand

 

        1.  Refugees registered for repatriation in 1954 were as follows:

                               men (18 or over)          6,728

                               women (18 or over)        7,373

                               children (under 18)      22,336

 

        2.  Estimate of children born to refugee parents from 1964 to 1967                                      5,153

 

        3.  Registered aliens (1963)

 

                               male                         2,008

                               female                       1,152

 

        4.  Unregistered refugees and other    illegally entered Vietnamese (1967 estimate) 10,000   

 

        5.  Old Vietnamese (those whose families              have been in Thailand since before 1940)     20,000

 

                               Total . . . . . . . . . .74,75037

 

The Vietnamese communities in Thailand have a certain degree of permanence about them.  One reason for this is the fact that nineteenth century Catholic missionaries encouraged their Vietnamese parishioners to live together in special villages because there were not enough priests to serve dispersed congregations.  Another reason is that in 1949  the Thai authorities restricted the postwar refugees to thirteen provinces near the Mekong River.  In 1950, the refugees were regrouped into four Northeastern provinces, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom, Ubon and Sakhon Nakhon.  Moreover, the Vietnamese Communist organization in Thailand, for purposes of infiltration and consolidation, has sought to keep the refugees from leaving what has become a strategic area near the Mekong River border with Laos.

 

The secret Vietnamese Communist organization in Thailand has operated various front groups, one of which is called the Vietnamese Mutual Aid Association of Thailand.38   This front group was probably set up by the Vietnamese Communist organization in 1950 or shortly thereafter after the Viet Minh information office was closed in Bangkok.  The Association's officers are said to be chosen by the Communist cadres from among the more prosperous refugee businessmen in Thailand.  The persons who are selected probably pay the Communist organization for the honor, and may receive some immunity from economic harassment by the organization.  A group of approximately one hundred refugees, who were arrested by the Thai authorities in February 1969, may have been officers of this front group.39

 

This secret Vietnamese Communist organization, led by the Vietnamese top cadres, is called the Central Committee.  It is directly responsible to the Communist Workers Party (Lao Dong) in North Vietnam and it is said to have radio contact with Hanoi.  The messages are relayed between the organization and Vietnam, probably through Vientiane and also through some provinces in Cambodia.  However, some messages are channeled through Bangkok, which are usually via Hong Kong, by sea or air mail routes.40

 

The functioning of the Central Committee's membership is kept secret, even from the lower cadre of the organization whenever possible, and therefore is hardly known to the outside.  Therefore, it is quite difficult to get at documents, especially where there is work of mouth contact.  It is apparently flexible enough to move and change its headquarters on short notice.  The Central Committee can probably control the Vietnamese Communist organization in Thailand by insisting on the right of approving the election of provincial or area committees, which in turn approve the election of district or even local committees.

 

The provincial committees have the main responsibility over the large refugee areas in Nakhon Phanom, Nong Khai, Sakhon Nakhon, Ubol and Prachin Buri in eastern Thailand.  These major committees evidently serve mainly as conveyor belts, submitting instructions from the Central Committee down to party cadre who are working closely with the refugees who are Hanoi sympathizers.41   And at the same time, the local (district) committee in charge functions in a district or town where at least five hundred Vietnamese refugees reside.  However, each committee member is responsible for one or more duties, for example, for party policy, education, finance, propaganda, for reconciling members' disputes, or supervision of the youth groups of different ages.  These men are called deputy leaders (with five or more members), and are directed by the district committee. The are elected by the cell's membership but have to be approved by the district committee.42   Vietnamese refugees officially claim to Thai authorities that they are Saigon government sympathizers. however, the Communist organization effectively and clandestinely controls them.

 

After the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964, the Hanoi government said it had to stop the repatriation of Vietnamese refugees from Thailand because, it alleged, the Gulf of Tonkin could not be considered safe or navigable after the August incident.  A few months later, Hanoi and Peking began to apply pressure against the Northeast region because of Thailand's military cooperation with the United States.  A large number of Vietnamese applied for permits to move out of the Northeastern provinces where they had been restricted.43

 

Apart from the barriers to achieving alien resident status, the Thai government issues regulations that concern the refugees' travel restrictions.  Some of these restrictions are as follows:

 

        1.  No refugee can go outside his village area settlement for more than 24 hours, or leave the province in which he was settled without written permission from his provincial superintendent.  He must show this permit to the local authorities when he arrives at his destination and must inform them when he leaves.

        2.  Refugees cannot change their residence within their province of settlement without prior permission, the request for which must be endorsed by the local headman.

        3.  The refugee head of the family must inform police sub-village headman every time someone outside the province wants to contact a member of his family; the headman must verify that the visit concerns the refugee's honest living; and if it concerns politics, the fact must be reported to a Thai special police branch.

        4.  If a refugee who has behaved himself applies for permission to earn his living outside his restricted area, this may be granted of the authorities unanimously agree.44

 

In 1965, when the United States began bombing selected targets in North Vietnam, the Vietnamese Communist organization in Northeast Thailand was believed to still be using Radio Hanoi for policy guidance and propaganda purposes.  After the first bombs were dropped near Hanoi, they called upon the refugees clandestinely, to discuss the situation, hoping to increase hatred towards the American government.  As air raids continued and bombing became extremely serious, reports out of Radio Hanoi claimed huge losses of planes and troops suffered by the Americans.

 

        The bombing of North Vietnam ceased at the close of 1968, and it seemed a good time for again starting repatriation.  Generally speaking, Vietnamese refugees in the Northeast region were delighted at the prospect of going home.  The Thai Red Cross and International Red Cross were working to bring this about.  There was no indication, however, that Hanoi wished to cooperate.  Perhaps for the North Vietnamese, there was a real advantage for the time being at least, in keeping loyal Vietnamese in various enclaves in Northeast Thailand.

 

In early 1969, as the crisis increased, some ninety refugees were rounded up and moved to the Thai detention center in Nakhon Ratchasima.  Generally, Vietnamese protests were of a silent nature by groups gathering in front of police stations in Udorn, Sakon Nakhon, Nongkhai and other Northeastern provinces.  In some instances they sat down and some wept, but made no other demonstration.  As one provincial official said glumly:

               ". . . They are a headache for us. . . . "45

 

For them, although memories of the homeland have grown dim over the years, the vast majority of the refugees insist that they will return to Vietnam.  Many of the shops in the area display portraits of Ho-Chi-Minh instead of the Thai King (King Phumiphol Aduldet).  It is believed that cadre leaders are trained in North Vietnam or Laos, and later moved move clandestinely into Thailand to keep a close watch on refugee political attitudes.46

 

        The Vietnamese minority group currently poses a thorny problem for the Thai government.  Wherever possible, watch is kept on them by agents and informers, but the authorities in the Northeast know that rules against political assembly and the movement of refugees across provincial borders are flaunted everyday.

 

        The problem of the Vietnamese in Northeast Thailand is a tangle of ideologies, stubbornness and misunderstanding.  The refugees, most of whom fled from their homes in Tonkin and Laos during the war against the French (1947 to 1954) have made little effort to adjust to their environment, and the language barrier means additional problems in getting along with the Northeast Thai people.  Even more divisive is the aloofness of the Vietnamese, many having been in Thailand for more than a generation.  Of the eight thousand living in Nongkhai province, very few have adopted Thai nationality.

 

In the 1980's the Thai have had a serious problem with both those newly arrived refugees after the Vietnam War in 1975 and the Indo-Chinese refugees who arrived in the country before 1975.

 

E.   Thailand and the Vietnam War after 1975

 

1.   The United States Bases in Northeast Thailand

 

Thailand was especially meaningful to American before 1975 and during the Vietnam War in at least three important ways.  Firstly, for several years Thailand had allowed the United States to develop a number of air bases on Thai soil, from which large numbers of planes flew regularly into Vietnam and Laos.  Secondly, Thailand itself was itself the target of increasing Peking-supported subversion.  Thirdly, Thailand had begun to play a very effective role in Southeast Asia's international politics especially as a key promoter of regional cooperation.  This was a particularly important step for American leaders who see in Asian regionalism an important way to help small and weak Southeast Asian nations build an effective barrier against a resurgent China.47

 

With these factors in mind, the United States has built a main line of air bases and supply depots right up through Thailand's central Khorat Plateau.  This line bisects Thailand from the Gulf of Siam on the south, to the Mekong River border with Laos on the north.  The line of bases seems to have followed older rail and road links, and where these have not been sufficient, massive new American road-building programs are underway.

 

Starting at the Cake, south of Bangkok, the chief American-used installations are these:  the Sattahip Naval Base; then Don-Muang Airfield at Bangkok itself; and then moving north and east of Bangkok, the following four: Khorat (known as Nakhom Ratchasima), Khon-Kaen, Nam Pong and Udon (or Udorn).  East of that line, at the Mekong River border with Laos is the helicopter air base at Nakhorn-Panom and due south about one hundred and fifty miles is the base at Udorn.  Going back to about thirty-five miles south of Bangkok is Nakhorn Pathom, a large base at which construction was just completed.  Finally, on a line running northwest of Bangkok are more installations: the air base at Takhi and, in the far Northwest, near Chiang Mai, an electronics installation is under construction.  Journalists reported in 1966 that most flights by American jets into Vietnam, perhaps 1,500 missions each week,48  originate from Takhi, Khorat, and Udorn and Ubon.

 

These important increases helped to explain both the pattern and the magnitude of plans for American-built airfield and bases.  The magnitude was great, with the development of new port facilities, warehouses, roads, and pipelines running right through to the center of Thailand.  The transportation and supply profile of the country was reshaped almost overnight.  The explanation for the new port being built at Sattahip was to reduce pressures on Bangkok's overcrowded harbor.  Khorat, the site of operational missions, training facilities and a large supply complex (the United States Army reportedly requisitioned sufficient supplies for an entire infantry brigade),49  provides a similar example.

 

At Sattahip itself, which functions as a combined naval station with a nearby air base, an exceptionally large supple dump and pier facility were built.  Though described initially as a naval air station,50  Sattahip was able to substitute for Bangkok for off-loading the full range of military equipment and manpower.  It includes, for example, a marine terminal capable of berthing up to seven ships simultaneously, numerous ammunition storage bunkers, and fuel pipelines fed from ocean-going tanker.  Initially, these pipelines were to run to Don-Muang Airport at Bangkok; ultimately they were to tie into the logistic complex at Khorat and other airfields which were due to be built at Khon Kaen and Nam Phon.51

 

The airfield near Sattahip has two runways, each more than two miles long, and is capable of handling several fighter-bomber squadrons, more than one hundred C-123 transports and some KC-135 tankers.  This allows for in-flight refueling of B-52 bombers, and some military leaders, according to journalists, have already proposed that the base be used directly by B-52's.52        Over the years, Thailand had been a recipient of United States assistance since an agreement was signed in 1950.  By 1966, a total of perhaps $850 million had been spent,53  of which nonmilitary assistance (since 1946) accounted for about $403 million.54   Even with this aid (and much of the nonmilitary aid is spent to build those conditions of development and security which frustrate Communism and insurgency), there are some signs, as we will see, that some of the patterns found earlier in South Vietnam are being duplicated today in Thailand.

By the end of 1968 the Thai government had received United States financial assistance of approximately $500 million towards the construction of six major air bases in Thailand.  The major air bases are located strategically around the Northeast region with an eye toward flying distance to Hanoi of forty minutes average time, and in some cases to Laos.55   The major air bases in the Northeast are at Udorn, Obon, Khorat, and Nakhon Phanom provinces near the Laotian border.  Each of the air fields is equipped with jet-length runways and costly maintenance facilities necessary to support and repair war planes.  Prior to cessation of bombing North Vietnam (November 1, 1968), approximately eighty percent of all radios originated from these bases.56

 

In early 1969, there were approximately 50,000 American servicemen stationed in Thailand, as follows: 36,000 in the Air Force, 12,000 in the Army, and 1,000 military advisors.  There is now a gradual withdrawal of this force underway.  In OCtober 1969, the United States and Thailand announced plans to withdraw 6,000 men of the United States Air Force.57   This plan was to have been completed by July 1, 1970.  The withdrawal was possible because of the changing operational requirements of the Vietnam War.

 

Along with the benefits brought to Thailand by the United States servicemen, there was also problems.  Some Thai legislators, especially from the Northeast, complained of the conduct of the G.I.'s.  There was also criticism of the danger posed to the civilian population by some of the air operations.

 

In February 1970, a United States B-52 bomber en route to a Vietnam mission dropped its thirty ton bomb load on a sparsely populated region in Northeast Thailand by accident.  The plane was on a war mission destination to Laos or North vietnam.  The accident was due to an error on the part of the aircraft.58   The news did not give damage in detail.

 

In April 1970, a United States Air Force plane that had been hit by an anti-aircraft fire over Laos crashed into officers' quarters at Udorn Air Base in Northeast Thailand, killing at least three Americans and injuring thirty.  News reports were that the pilot of the RF-4 reconnaissance jet was attempting an emergency landing at Udorn when the plane went out of control.  Both crewmen ejected safely over the base.  The plane plunged into the barracks beside the runway and exploded on impact.59   Fire destroyed nine buildings, an officer's Trailer, and the building housing the Armed Forces Radio Network office.  By July 24, 1978, it was reported that approximately 300 COmmunist guerrillas attacked military bases in the Northeast, killing 5 soldiers and wounding 16 others.60

 

Thailand and the Vietnam War

 

Before the Second World War, Indochina was a French colony, but it was occupied by the Japanese during the war.  Nationalist movements developed among the Vietnamese who fought for independence from Japan and, later, from France.  But at the end of the war, the Allies agreed that Indochina still belonged to France.  On September 2, 1945, Ho-Chi-Minh countered by declaring independence for Vietnam, and Viet Minh guerrillas started fighting in opposition to France's reoccupation.  A long bloody war ensued.  Finally, the Geneva Agreement of 1954 brought and end to the eight-year conflict.  The accord, however, divided Vietnam into two countries: North and South Vietnam.

 

Previously, the United States had not considered Indochina a critically important area.  The United States began, however, to get involved in Vietnam in 1948 by contributing aid to France.

 

The struggle in Vietnam had the attention of Thailand from the beginning.  It was being fought closer to it than any other war had been, except for the crisis in Laos in 1960.  the Thai government believed that the war in Vietnam indicated a real anger of Communist expansion in that part of the world, especially to Thailand.  Furthermore, Thai leaders were convinced that if the Communists were not stopped in Vietnam, the same situation might occur in Thailand.  As Foreign Minister Thanat Khoman said, "The weaker the situation in South Vietnam, the more effective will be this campaign in Thailand."61

 

Thus Thai leaders committed themselves to the "Domino Theory," which argues that if Vietnam falls, other states in Southeast Asia will follow suit.

The danger reappeared in 1964, when the Vietnam War was intensified.  In facing the new threat, Thailand's stance was quite clear.  Most Thais believed that the country would be in grave danger if the Communists won in South Vietnam.

 

During the winter of 1964, when the Johnson administration was forced to escalate the war in Vietnam, the United States found that there were not enough airfields in South Vietnam.  There were only three jet-length runways available in South Vietnam to support the air operations against Hanoi.  The Thai government offered its airfields in the Northeast of Thailand for American use against the North Vietnamese.62   From 1965 to mid 1970's, these bases have been used extensively by the United States for attacks in the Indochinese theatre.

 

In the United States, there appeared to be mixed reactions to the expansion of United States activities in Thailand.  For example, one protest group, the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, charged that the Untied States was "laying the basis for a further Vietnam-like intervention" in Thailand in the near future.63   However, a spokesman for the Agency for International Development (A.I.D.) denied this and said that the programs in Thailand would not take Thailand in such a direction.

 

The Committee announced that it would attack the United States government involvement in Thailand, particularly the involvement of university and college "advisory" projects dealing with counter-insurgency and financed by various government agencies.  The Committee somehow, in various ways that are not clear, managed to obtain various university documents from various university offices.  Excerpts from these seven hundred pages of documents distributed by the student committee allegedly "showed wide spread manipulation of universities and scholars for the purposes of counter insurgency research."  The Committee singled out three programs in particular, namely:

        1.  The Academic Advisory Council for Thailand

        2.  The Defense Department's Project Jason

        3.  The American Institute for Research.64

 

These programs involved professors from many universities across the country.

One of the documents quoted was a September 1, 1968 contract amendment between the University of California at Los Angeles and A.I.D (The AGency for International Development).65   It says that the Academic Advisory Council for Thailand was established by the agency "to provide coordination between the academic community of Thai scholars and A.I.D."66

Another document used by the students contained the minutes of a "Thailand study group of the Jason Summer study" that met in Falmouth, Massachusetts in the summer of 1967.  They identified this project as a program through which scientists advise government in general, and the Defense Department in particular.  It was said to be a creation of the Institute of Defense Analysis, which offers advice to the Pentagon.  The minutes from Jason Project meeting on Thailand are detailed on American involvement in supporting the Thai police force as well as in helping certain political leaders.67     The students' committee also criticized the American Institute for Research, a privately run research organization supported by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon division.68

 

Whatever the merits or demerits of such charges by such groups may be, they are quite incidental to the overwhelming central problem which is the growing possible aggression on Thailand's border.  To the Thai people, and most of the other peoples in Southeast Asia, it has been increasingly clear that the Communist countries, particularly Red China and North Vietnam, are anxious to gain dominance over them.  Sometimes by open aggression, as used in Korea, but also by attacks from within, by clandestine aggression through guerrilla warfare, and through infiltrating trained men and arms across national frontiers, the Communists hoped to achieve their goals.  Communist success in South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, would make Thailand's position perilous.

 

In the spring of 1970, a new dimension in the Indochinese war was added when the government of Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia was overthrown, and General Lon Nol took over as the new chief of government.  Some radical changes took place, with the Lon Nol government displaying a markedly friendlier attitude towards the West and towards its old traditional enemies of South Vietnam and Thailand.  A major step was also undertaken by the United States on April 30, 1970 when President Nixon announced that he was ordering United States troops to move against the sanctuaries of the Viet-Cong and North Vietnam in Cambodia.69   This was a limited operation, however, and on June 30, 1970 all United States ground forces were withdrawn.

 

Mid 1970's when South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia fell under Communist control in the spring of 1975, the Thai government's initial reaction was to seek an accommodation with the victors, but feelers extended to Hanoi met with a chilly reception.  In July 2, 1975, however, Thailand established diplomatic relations with China, after to years of negotiations.70   By early 1975 China had moderated its anti- American pressure because of the belief that continued United States commitments to the security of its Asian allies were essential as a counter force to the rising Soviet influence in the region.

 

The pullout of the 27,000 United States military personnel in Thailand was begun in March 1975 and was completed in March 1976.  The Thai government, however, stressed the need for continued United States military commitment in Southeast Asia, but the emphasis in relations between the two allies from Bangkok's standpoint clearly shifted from one military cooperation to economic and technical cooperation.

 

Other development in 1970's included an agreement in principle between Thailand and the Philippines in July, 1975 that SEATO should be phased out.  The idea was endorsed two months later by SEATO, which formally dissolved itself in June 1977, leaving intact, however, the validity of the Manila Pact.  These new developments in the 1980's brought new dangers to Thailand from the Communist forces, and the Northeast region is clearly facing more challenges than ever before.

 

 

References.(Part I and Part II)

Area Handbook for Thailand, Frederica M. Brunge, The American University, 1981.

Thailand, a country Study,      Frederica M. Brunge, The American University, 1980.

Buss, Claude. A., Southeast Asia and World Today,   Nostrand Press, NJ, 1959

Cady,  John. F., Thailand, Burma, Loas and  Cambodia, NJ Prentice, 1966.

Cady,  John  F., Southeast Asia; Its historical Development, Ohio Univ. Press. 1974.

Darling, H. V.   Harmony on the Mekong, The Military Engineer, May-June, 1958.

Hall,  D. G.  E. , History of Southeast Asia, London, Oxford Univ. Press, 1961

Hall,  D.  G.  E., A Hall of SEA, New york, St. Martin's Press,  1989.

Kahin, George M. Gov. And Politics of  SEA, Cornell Univ. Press. 1964.

Keyes, Charles F. , Isan: Regionalism  in Northeastern Thailand, Cornell Thailand Project, 1967.

Keyes, Charles F.,  The Golden  Peninsular, Culture and Adaptation in  Mainland SEA, Mac. Press. 1977.

Manit, Vallibhotana, Guide to Phimai and Antiquitities in Khorat,  Dept. Of Education,  1962

Maha Sila Viarvong, History of Loas, Trans. From Loa by the US Joint Publication Services, NY Paragon

               Reprint Corp.  1964.

Stevenson, Charles A., The end of Nowhere, American Policy  Toward Laos since 1954, Beacon Press,                Boston, 1973.

Wood, W. A. R.,   History of Siam,  Charlermnit Press, 1924.

Wyat, David K., " Thailand" In Search of  SEA, A modern History, Edited by David  J. Steinberg,..1971.

References; ( for Part  III  and Part IV)

 

1 Bangkok Post, April 11, 1958.

 

2 J.L.S. Girling, "Northeast Thailand:  Tomorrow's Vietnam?" Foreign Affairs, XLIV (January 1968), 390-391.

 

3 Bangkok Post, December 15, 1961.

 

4 Theh Chongkhadikil, Bangkok Post, March 5, 1962.

 

5 Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong), Vol. 97, No. 36, September 16, 1977, p. 12., and "Insurgency in Thailand" by Robert F. Zimmerman, in Problems of Communism, Vol. XXV, Washington, May-June 1976, p. 21.

 

6 Nation Review; "Deputy Premier Reports on Insurgent Situation", Nation Review (Bangkok), November 30, 1979. p. 3.

 

Referenes and foot notes (  Isan History . Part V.)

1 Bernard K. Gordon, "Thailand:  Its Meaning for the U.S.," Current History (January 1967), p. 19.

 

2 The New York Times, November 27, 1965.

 

3 The Washington Post, August 21, 1966.

 

4 Gordon, op. cit., p. 20.

 

5 The New York Times, January 16, 1966.

 

6 Donald E. Nuechterlein, Thailand and the Struggle for Southeast Asia (Ithaca, New York:  Cornell University Press, 1965), pp. 97-113.

 

7 Ibid., pp. 97-113.

 

8 The New York Times, March 12, 1967, p. 11.

 

9 The New York, December 16, 1965, p.5.

 

10 The New York Times, July 24, 1978, p. 2.

 

11 The New York Times, April 22, 1982.   

 

12 The New York Times, April 22, 1982.

 

13  Charles J.V. Murphy,  "Thailand's Fight to Finish," Fortune, LXXII (October 1965), p. 272.

 

14 "Thailand" The Atlantic, CCXVII (April, 1966), p.23.

 

15 Interview, February 1, 1970

 

15 J.L.S. Girling, "Northeast Thailand--Tomorrow's Vietnam?" Foreign Affairs, XLVI (January 1968), 388-398

 

16 The New York Times, January 6, 1969, p. 31.

 

17 Ibid.

 

18 The New York Times, January 6, 1969, p. 31.

 

19 Dr. Pridi Phanomyong, as brought out in earlier, was one of the coup d'etat leaders in 1932.  An anti-Japanese underground leader during World War II, he became Premier in 1946.  He was forced to resign after the assassination of King Ananda Thamahidol.  He fled the country after a military coup brought Marshal Phibun to power.  He reappeared later in Communist surroundings and died in Paris, France mid 1980's.( for more details of Seri Thai  and its activities and Pridi...please see Seri Thai..on Previously Posted on SCT...and AEB ...)

 

20 The New York Times, January 16, 1969, p. 31.

 

21 The New York Times, July 10, 1969, p. 12.

 

22 The New York Times, November 22, 1969, p. 3.

 

23 The New York Times, January 11, 1970, p. 3.

 

24 Ibid.

 

25 Ubol Air Base is the airfield of the United States Eighth Tactical Fighter Wing, Wolf pack.  There are 4,000 Americans at the base, mostly Air Force personnel.  It is located in the Northeast near the Mekong River.

 

26 The New York Times, January 14, 1970, p.  2.

 

27 The New York Times, March 19, 1970, p. 16.

 

28 Also see details, on (Thailand and the Vietnam War).  See the story, "UCLA Advisers Work with Aid Unit in Thailand," in the Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1970.

 

29 The New York Times, April 10, 1987.

 

30 The New York Times, January 24, 1983, p. 4.

 

31 The New York Times, April 10, 1987, p. 3.

 

32 Donald E. Nuechterlein, Thailand and the Struggle for Southeast Asia (Ithaca, New York:  Cornell University Press, 1965), pp. 97-107.

 

33 Police Major-General Chan Ansuchote, The Vietnamese Refugees in Thailand:  A Case Study in Decision-Making (Master's Thesis, Thammasat University, Bangkok, 1960 (English Translation)

 

34 The New York Times, March 15, 1969, p. 4.

 

35 Peter A. Poole, "Thailand's Vietnamese Minority," Asian Survey, VII, No. 12 (December 1967), p. 887.

 

36 The New York Times, March 15, 1969, p. 4.

 

37 Statistical Yearbook, Thailand, No. 26 (Bangkok: National Statistical Office 1987), and Bangkok Post, July 10, 11, 13 and September 1, 1967.

 

38 Robert Shaplen, "Letter from Bangkok," The New Yorker (March 18, 1967), p. 155, and  The New York Times, March 15, 1969, p. 4.

 

39 Bangkok Post, February 15, 1967.

 

40 Poole, op. cit., p. 891.

 

41 Poole, op. cit., p. 891.

 

42 Ibid., pp. 891-892.

 

43 Bangkok Post, November 13, 1964.

 

44 Chan Ansuchote, "Rules for the Control of Vietnamese Refugees" (The Text of the 1951) (Bangkok:  Thammasat University, 1951), pp. 24-25.

 

45 The New York Times, March 15, 1969, p. 4.

 

46 The New York Times, March 15, 1969, p. 4, and The New York Times, March 24, 1987.

 

47 Bernard K. Gordon, "Thailand: Its Meaning for the U.S.," Current History (January 1967), p. 16.

 

48 The Washington Post, August 19, 1966.

 

49 The Washington Post, October 22, 1966.

 

50 The New York Times, November 17, 1965.

 

51 The Washington Post, August 19, 1966.

 

52 The New York Times, October 27, 1966.

 

53 The New York Times, October 30, 1966.

 

54 The Washington Post, September 21, 1966.

 

55 The New York Times, January 5, 1969, p. 18.

 

56 Ibid.

 

57 The New York Times, October 1, 1969, p. 1.

 

58 The New York Times, February 5, 1970, p. 7.

 

59 The New York Times, April 11, 1970, p. 10.

 

60 The New York Times, July 24, 1978, p. 3.

 

61 The New York Times, November 16, 1964, p. 6.

 

62 Murphy, op. cit., p. 122.

 

63 The New York Times, April 3, 1970, p. 8.

 

64 The New York Times, April 5, 1970, p. 5.

 

65 Under the agreement the University was to organize, coordinate and conduct meetings, seminars or conferences under the council's auspices, dealing with development and counter-insurgency problems, issues and activities, including research, relating to A.I.D. operations in Thailand.

 

66 The New York Times, April 5, 1970, p. 5.

 

67 The New York Times, April 5, 1970, p. 5.

 

68 Perhaps it was criticism of this nature that formerThai Foreign Minister, Thanat Khoman, had in mind July 1970 when he charged that U.S. policy is being distorted by the "confusions and convulsions" of the hippie and yippie culture.  Using some strong language, he said that the U.S. "is exhibiting signs of derangement and systematic disorder." See Time, July 27, 1970, p. 22.

 

69 "Communist Sanctuaries in Cambodia Under Attack," SEATO Record, IX, No. 3 (June 1970), 17-18.

 

70 Bangkok Post, July 3, 1975, p. 1.

 

The end of Isan History...in my view...with  References and its foot notes and annotations.

To and for the better understanding of the whole Isan of Thailand and for peace in Souteast Asia.....