Turmoil Within Thailand

The University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) has suspended its summer Interdisciplinary Thai Studies program at Thammasat University in Bangkok, as of May 27, due to the precarious state in Thailand.

Although a few UC students remain in Thailand from the EAP spring program, as many have returned home or are traveling throughout other regions of Asia.

As the crisis began heating up, EAP monitored the situation closely in order to prevent student endangerment.

Ines DeRomana, system-wide office of EAP security analyst, said that “UCEAP is supported by a group of experienced and knowledgeable professionals in California and overseas, a third-party security intelligence provider, U.S. Diplomatic Security, U.S. Consular Affairs, and the Office of the President Risk Services so we are able to respond quickly and were able to define the scope of the crisis while protecting our students.”

DeRomana also relayed that the conflict became dangerous for students only very recently; before, the UC students were simply warned to stay clear of certain affected areas of Bangkok, including shopping malls and other public venues.

Fortunately, UCEAP spring students at Thammasat University experienced few problems related to the conflict, rarely more than minor inconveniences.

Fiery scenes glare from the pages of magazines and global newspapers as chaos rages in Thailand, a chaos stemming from political unrest years in the making.

In lieu of these events, the US Department of State warns against travel to Thailand.

In addition, numerous students have family and friends abroad there and are feeling the effects of the conflict.

It is especially upsetting for one student, fourth-year public health sciences major Annabel Jeng, a Thai citizen with family residing in Bangkok.

“I just feel really sad because we’re all Thai,” Jeng said, “and we should all strive for unity.  We are fighting against ourselves and killing so many people when it doesn’t seem necessary and we should all be fighting for the same cause.”

The Royal Thai Government declared 15 provinces to be in a state of emergency, with Bangkok at the crux of violent, sometimes deadly, demonstrations and protests.

Fed up with the government, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), also known as the “Red Shirts,” continue to rally in anger, claiming that the Thai government has not honored their democratic choices.

This anger results from the government’s overthrow of the former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was exiled due to allegations of corruption brought forth in part by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (the “Yellow Shirts”).

The UDD, who was perturbed because Thaksin supported them and other parties with similar interests, was upset by the coup.

Thaksin was replacement Prime Minister Vejjajiva Abhisit, whom they considered to be a member of the elite brought into power by military influence. The UDD, possibly still supported by Thaksin, seeks to dissolve parliament and hold early elections, as well as force Abhisit out of office.

Abhisit offered options for peace; however, his aims at reconciliation were not enough to appease the rebelling Red Shirts. As a stalemate ensues, the streets are now plagued by hostility among the Red Shirts, Yellow Shirts and government forces.

Jeng said that her family members in Thailand are often unable to go to work and are subject to a curfew imposed for residents’ safety.

While some people have tried to disguise themselves by wearing red shirts, even that is risky.

At this point, many restrictions are in place to try to maintain safety, including limitations on transportation, telephone communication and electricity in areas where conflict persists.