Bangkok is dragged into a civil war situation (Updated Sunday, May 16, 9:00 pm Bangkok time)

On Sunday morning, the situation continues to remain confused in Bangkok following the escalation of violence between Red Shirt protesters and the government’s forces since Thursday. On Sunday evening, there were already over 210 people wounded and 29 persons reported dead. More than 50 people have been killed, and 1,600 have been wounded since the protests began two months ago, according to emergency services and the Ministry of Public Health.

It is likely that these figures will continue to increase as none of the two camps will now back up from their positions. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva explained on Saturday night on television that there would be no turning back even as the government struggled to restore order and normalcy to violence-torn Bangkok. “The government must move forward. We cannot retreat, because we are doing things that will benefit the entire country,” he declared. Red Shirts leaders have vowed to continue their fight for the “sake of democracy” but indicated later in the evening that they were open to peace talks if the government orders the army to stop its attacks.

Meanwhile, the city center of Bangkok around the Rachaprasong/Silom/Rama IV perimeter – where the Red Shirts camp is located – looks increasingly like a civil war zone. Despite the Thai Army’s sealing of the camp and the installation of a buffer zone between “Red Shirts” territory and “Non-colored Bangkok,” violence extended little by little to include additional streets… so far to the benefit of Red Shirts guards. Barricades were set up along the intersection of Ploenchit/Wittayu, a posh area of embassies and luxury condominiums and hotels.

The most violent fights erupted along Rama IV Boulevard, stretching up to the area of Suan Lum Night Bazaar. Truck tires were burned, shootings were heard along the boulevard, and a bomb exploded in front of the Lumpini Boxing Stadium. Newspapers reported about telephone boxes being burned down around Silom Road. Even Sathorn Road has been dragged into street violence with a gas station being targeted by snipers and telephone booths being destroyed.

Another zone of intense fighting took place yesterday north and northeast of the Rachaprasong area. Bullets were fired at Ratchaprarop Street, and roads were blocked up to the Ding Daeng area. Some people are using the current chaos for their own purposes, further adding to the confusion.

Embassies and the CRES (Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation) – an agency set up by both the government and the army to monitor the situation and coordinate action – as well as the government have warned people, including the media, to avoid the casualty zone. The CRES has asked NGO and various organizations to remove children and elderly people out of the Red Shirts camp until Monday at 3:00 pm.

The situation in Bangkok seems surrealistic: beyond a 2 sq km area looking like a war zone, life looks pretty normal. The closure of all public transports (Skytrain and underground) has added to traffic jams in the streets. But shops and malls are open in the rest of Bangkok, while Suvarnabhumi airport remains open under normal operations. However, the Prime Minister evocated this Sunday morning the possibility to impose a curfew to the whole or to parts of Bangkok. The curfew is expected to start anytime soon. The city administration has asked schools to postpone their opening by a week following the end of school holidays, while the government announced in the evening to offer two official holidays to all workers in Bangkok.

Meanwhile, most embassies remain closed and travel advisories from countries around the world have been upgraded to emergency level for Bangkok. The rest of the country – especially the south – remains untouched by the current violence in the capital.