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Obituary: Thailand's 'Commander Red'

Khattiya Sawasdipol tests a red-shirt guard's shield in Bangkok, 11 May
Khattiya Sawasdipol offering security advice to red-shirts

Khattiya Sawasdipol, the renegade Thai general better known as Seh Daeng (Commander Red), saw himself as "security adviser" to the country's red-shirt opposition movement.

He could be found training activists on the streets of central Bangkok just days before he was shot and seriously wounded on 13 May. He died of his wounds four days later.

A loyal supporter of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, he was allied to the more radical wing of the broad protest movement but was frequently disowned by the more political leaders, the BBC's Rachel Harvey reports from the Thai capital.

Comparing himself before he died to the Mel Gibson warrior character in the epic Hollywood film Braveheart, he nonetheless denied being involved in anti-government violence, saying he was concentrating on checking the protesters' street barricades.

Photographs showed him in camouflage gear using a bamboo stick to teach red-shirt guards the correct distance to maintain between each other while on patrol, and to hit one guard's home-made shield in order to test its durability.

Guards could be seen kneeling before the general, who enjoyed cult status among some opposition supporters.

Aged 58, he had been suspended since January from duty in the Thai army, where he had the rank of major-general.

An army source told the Bangkok Post on 8 May that he had subsequently been found guilty by a defence ministry panel of "repeatedly defying orders from his superiors to not get involved in political movements, particularly with the red-shirts".

'A warrior like me'

Speaking before troops moved against the protesters' sprawling camp in a Bangkok shopping district, Seh Daeng told AFP news agency he was "always controlling the security".

Khattiya Sawasdipol speaks to AFP news agency in Bangkok, 11 May
Do you know the Braveheart movie? Mel Gibson is the same as me
Seh Daeng

"We want to check to make sure there are no weapons around and no-one comes to attack us," he said. "It's important that I'm here. Everyone is here because Seh Daeng is here."

He rejected accusations of involvement in the numerous mysterious grenade attacks plaguing the Thai capital since the mass protests began in March.

"People kept screaming my name but I had nothing to do with it," he told Reuters in another interview.

"I have no guns but there may be others who want to help. Not just help the protesters, they want to help the country, but I don't know who they are."

He told AFP that his fall-out with commanders went back to 2008 when he publicly criticised the head of the army and was reassigned to lead aerobics classes at a local market.

"Everybody laughed at me," he said. "You don't assign a warrior like me to do a stupid thing like that. Do you know the Braveheart movie? Mel Gibson is the same as me."

If Seh Daeng antagonised the Thai military leadership, he was also at odds with leaders of the opposition movement itself.

Days before he was shot, he accused the movement's current leaders of "colluding with the government".



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