BANGKOK— The shooting death of a prominent pro-government poet in Thailand is prompting concerns that it could lead to more political violence in the country.
The daylight shooting of 45-year-old Kamol Duangphasuk outside a restaurant in the capital is the latest unsolved attack on a high-profile figure in Thailand at a time of political instability.
Kamol, better known by his pen name Mai Neung Kor Khuntee, was a supporter of the Red Shirt movement, which backs the government of interim prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who has been battling to stay in office. Kamol was killed in his car in the parking lot of a restaurant Wednesday afternoon.
A leader of the United Front for Democracy (UDD), the core Red Shirt group, Dr. Weng Tojirakarn says it is obvious from the crime scene and the two wounds on the victim’s chest that the activist artist was assassinated at close range.
“I think that the bullet came from the pistol not very far from Mai Neung. So the assassin must be very close, not more than one meter,” he said.
Kamol had spoken out against Thailand’s harsh lese majeste law, under which those convicted can face up to 15 years in prison for defamation of the royal family.
The Red Shirts are often labeled as being against the country’s monarchy, something their leaders deny.
An army major general and anti-government figure, who runs a private hospital in Bangkok, recently set up what he calls the Rubbish Collection Organization to flush out those allegedly insulting the monarchy.
Dr. Weng says he sees no coincidence between the establishment of the new group and the latest killing. He calls for its founder, Dr. Rienthong Nanna, to denounce the lethal attack.
The UDD leader says the Red Shirts, despite their anger at being targeted, will not retaliate.
“We resolutely stand on the non-violent method," said Dr. Weng. "So even we do know that Mai Neung has been killed by the political conflict; we still tell our colleagues that please don’t use the violent method because we can’t overcome or solve the political conflict by violent methods.”
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch non-governmental organization is calling for Thai authorities to investigate the killing and bring “whoever is responsible to justice — wherever that investigation leads.” The group’s statement also notes the recent formation of the pro-monarchy organization which calls those accused of committing lese majeste offenses “garbage” and vows to “exterminate” them.
Human Rights Watch says Kamol’s death “can only worsen the already tense political situation in Thailand.”