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
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
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
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
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
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
The Impact of Communist Pressures from Laos and Vietnam in the
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
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
Isan history Part V
The Problems of Internal
Security, External and Communist Threat in the Northeast Region
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
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
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
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.
Communist Threat in the
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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:
dive, we dig you up and expose you.
When you are
in bad shape, we pounce on and
attack, we fight back.
chase, we turn and bore into you.
are debased and fickle, and you
the people with your
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
(18 or over) 6,728
(18 or over) 7,373
(under 18) 22,336
2. Estimate of children born to refugee parents
from 1964 to 1967
3. Registered aliens (1963)
4. Unregistered refugees and other illegally entered
5. Old Vietnamese (those whose families
have been in Thailand since
before 1940) 20,000
. . . . . . . . . .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
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
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
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.
Thailand and the Vietnam
War after 1975
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
Handbook for Thailand, Frederica M. Brunge, The
American University, 1981.
a country Study, Frederica M. Brunge, The American
Claude. A., Southeast Asia and World Today, Nostrand Press, NJ, 1959
Cady, John. F.,
Thailand, Burma, Loas and Cambodia, NJ
Cady, John F., Southeast Asia; Its historical
Development, Ohio Univ. Press. 1974.
Harmony on the Mekong, The Military Engineer, May-June, 1958.
Hall, D. G. E. , History of Southeast Asia,
Oxford Univ. Press, 1961
Hall, D. G.
A Hall of SEA, New york, St. Martin's Press,
George M. Gov. And Politics of SEA, Cornell Univ. Press. 1964.
Charles F. , Isan: Regionalism in Northeastern Thailand, Cornell Thailand
The Golden Peninsular, Culture
and Adaptation in Mainland SEA, Mac.
Vallibhotana, Guide to Phimai and Antiquitities in
Khorat, Dept. Of Education, 1962
Sila Viarvong, History of Loas, Trans. From Loa by the
US Joint Publication Services, NY Paragon
Charles A., The end of Nowhere, American
Policy Toward Laos since 1954, Beacon
W. A. R.,
History of Siam, Charlermnit
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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,
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.
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.....