Civilians in firing line of Bangkok’s showdown

As gunfire sounded outside his condominium, Khrichana Phanitphong tried to warn his friend to come in from the balcony. Too late.
“I was worried about my friend so I opened the window to warn him to come inside. I had just started speaking to him before he was shot,” Khrichana said.
“Then I was shot in my right shoulder,” Khrichana, 32, a former pop singer, said from his hospital bed on Sunday in Bangkok. After several days of intense clashes between soldiers and “Red Shirt” anti-government protesters, human rights groups have expressed concern over the risk to innocent civilians, journalists and even medical rescue workers.
At least 25 people, none of them soldiers, have died in the latest fighting, with more than 200 people wounded. Many of the dead were shot. “It’s like a war,” said Chalida Pajaroensuk, director of the People’s Empowerment Foundation, a Bangkok non-governmental organisation concerned with human rights. “No one is safe in this situation.”
Khrichana said his friend was among the dead. “His body is still on the balcony and it cannot be taken away yet because the soldiers did not allow anyone to go in,” he said. Khrichana said he and his friend were shot in the Ratchaprarop district, one of two key battle zones on the perimeter of the Red Shirts’ fortified encampment, which extends for several square kilometres. The military on Saturday declared a “live fire zone” in Ratchaprarop where a foreign witness said he earlier saw troops fire towards a group of Red Shirts advancing with a Thai flag. Three bodies were later seen on the ground.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thai authorities were on a “slippery slope” towards serious human rights abuses by designating live fire zones.
“It’s a small step for soldiers to think ‘live fire zone’ means ‘free fire zone’, especially as violence escalates,” the group said. “These are city neighbourhoods, and the government should remember that ordinary people live there, not only protesters.” Under UN rules, lethal force must be used only in cases where a person poses an imminent danger to others’ lives, Human Rights Watch said.
Facing a military armed with assault rifles, the protesters have fought with homemade weapons including fireworks, rockets, slingshots, and burning tyres. An AFP photographer saw one demonstrator firing a handgun on Saturday. Numerous grenades have been fired in recent days and weeks, many at military or government targets, authorities say.

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