04/26/2010, 00.00
THAILAND
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Yellow Shirts call for martial law as a Catholic colonel is buried

by Weena Kowitwanij
To pro-government movement says it will defend the country against the Red Shirts. Prime Minister Abhisit rejects opposition proposal for elections in three months time. AsiaNews remembers Christopher Romklao Thuwatham, a 44-year-old army colonel, who died during violent clashes in the capital on 10 April.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a group that brought to power current Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, have taken to the streets. Known also as the Yellow Shirts, the movement has called for martial law and an end to demonstrations by the ‘red-shirt’ opposition, pledging action to defend the country if the authorities fail to put a stop to red-shirt protests. For its part, the Thai government has rejected a proposal by the Red Shirts to dissolve parliament in 30 days and hold elections in three months. The Red Shirts, who are supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, plan to bring their protest action to other Thai cities. Meanwhile, they have begun blocking roads around the capital to prevent police convoys from entering the capital.

Tensions in the capital are running high. A grenade that exploded today in front of the private residence of the former prime minister is but the latest in a series of violent actions, the worst in several decades, which have occurred in the past few weeks. So far, the violence has left 26 people dead and about a thousand injured. One of the victims was Colonel Christopher Romklao Thuwatham, a Catholic, who was buried last Friday. Here are the details of the funeral service.

Mgr Joseph Chusak Sirisuth, bishop of the diocese of Nakhon Ratchasima, returned to his native province of Ratchaburi to celebrate the funeral service. Colonel Christopher Romklao Thuwatham (pictured) was Deputy Chief of Staff of the Second Infantry Regiment in charge of the King’s protection. He died, shot in the back, on 10 April in Bangkok during clashes between anti-government demonstrators and police.

Since he died on duty, the King promoted the colonel to rank of general. The 44-year-old Catholic, who was married to a Buddhist woman, was buried on his birthday, 23 April. Fellow alumni from Saint Gabriel College, the school he attended before joining the military, used the occasion to celebrate his life. They marked his birthday with a cake at his graveside, sang college songs and reminisced about “the great times” they had together.

About 500 people, Catholic and non-Catholic, attended the funeral Mass. The body was laid to rest in the cemetery of Santikham, in Samphran District (Nakhon Pathos province) some 30 kilometres from Bangkok. More than 2,000 people took part in the service, including Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders as well as government officials.

The dead officer’s mother, Ms Watcharee, spoke about her son. “On 23 April of this year he would have been 44-year-old. We were planning to celebrate his birthday at home, the whole family; instead, we are gathered here to bury him.”

A few hours before his death on 10 April, the colonel called his mother by phone. “Today I need your prayers and meditations more than ever because I am on an important mission.”

The colonel’s wife Nicha Thuwatham also spoke about him, saying, “His love fulfilled my entire life.”

During the homily, Fr John Baptist Vivat Praesiri praised his courage and determination. He pointed out how he made the ultimate sacrifice in order to keep the country at peace.

It is therefore fitting that we should conclude with Colonel Romklao Thuwatham’s own words. In 1994, he said, “the life of a soldier is not about fulfilling a task in exchange for a salary, a career or such like. All soldiers are proud to sacrifice themselves and their lives for the good of the nation, something which very few can actually do.”

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