Behind the scenes of FRANCE 24's exclusive report
Issued on: Modified:
Reporting from Bangkok, FRANCE 24’s Cyril Payen recounts his experiences covering Saturday night’s clashes between opposition protesters and security forces – and the controversy that followed.
On Saturday night, a FRANCE 24 reporter covering the clashes between Thai security forces and anti-government “red-shirt” protesters shot footage that contradicted the Thai government’s declaration that soldiers only fired live rounds “into the air”. At least 20 people were killed and 800 wounded in the violence. Special correspondent Cyril Payen talks about the situation behind the scenes and the very public controversy that the footage sparked.
FRANCE 24: How did you find a good place to shoot the footage?
Cyril Payen: When we realised that the clashes could get violent in certain places, our team chose one of these spots to cover the story. It was deliberate.
But we didn’t at all anticipate the level to which the violence would escalate. And in no way did we expect the grenade that went off at the soldiers’ feet, which injured our colleague John Lin. We were lucky to be there, but even luckier to have got out of there alive.
Before setting off to cover the conflict, we had divided the team into two groups. The first went to a commercial area on the side where the Red Shirts were, and the second team on the side where the soldiers were, on a road close to the tourist area of Bangkok – that’s where we filmed the footage of the gunshots. Once we were there, the soldiers consented to being filmed. There was no hostility on their part towards our team.
The images are special because we were very close to the action, but the danger was very present. Technically, our colleague was lucky in that his camera was not pointed at the area where the grenade detonated, but rather more from a profile angle. Thus the explosion didn’t break his lens and he was able to continue filming.
Can you explain the controversy that arose following the airing of your video?
CP: A real controversy arose over our images in Thailand. Even more so since we were the only ones who obtained them, and the only ones in the very midst of the soldiers when the events took place.
We felt a lot of pressure, especially because the government denied everything later Saturday evening, saying that they had fired nothing but rubber bullets into the air.
The debate that arose in Thailand over our video touched on the possibility that a third party may have been involved. The sudden violence was illogical: just minutes before the explosion, the Red Shirts and the soldiers were shaking hands. Music by [composer Frederic] Chopin was audible in the streets, broadcast by the army with the aim of pacifying spirits.
To this day, we don’t know who launched the grenade. The army and the protesters both deny responsibility. We do know that the Red Shirts regularly steal equipment from security forces. Several M79 grenade launchers and their ammunition disappeared a month ago.
How do you explain the violence that killed at least 20 people over the weekend?
CP: The hypothesis of a third party has been reinforced by autopsies of the wounded. In the morgues and hospitals, we have seen at least six civilians killed by bullets shot squarely in the middle of their foreheads. This is the mark of an elite shooter – a sniper – and not a shot of deterrence.
And as for the injuries themselves, they seem to have been caused by high-power rifles, a weapon rarely found except with certain special military forces. The soldiers we saw had no such weaponry.
The shots could have come not from people within the army, but people who randomly shoot to create chaos. That could point to army veterans, or a particularly hard-core and heavily armed faction of the Red Shirts. Thailand has always had a number of different military factions. The country has had 16 coups in 32 years.
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