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In Thailand, tourists are drawn to Communist relics in deep forest


Kyodo News

Phitsanulok, Thailand  /  Tue, March 26, 2019  /  07:08 am
In Thailand, tourists are drawn to Communist relics in deep forest

Political and military school at Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park, Thailand (Shutterstock/sripfoto)

Thailand is among the many countries that faced Communist insurgency in the post-World War II era. The outlawed Communist Party of Thailand, which launched an insurgent campaign in 1965, based its headquarters in the mountains of northern Thailand.

Today, the area is a historical tourist attraction within the Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park and one of the most concrete pieces of evidence showing the existence of Communist insurgency in the country.

The headquarters, in the mountain range in Phitsanulok Province, served as a school for party cadres on military training, politics and medicine until 1982.

Little by little, national park authorities are renovating 31 square cabins at what is now called Political and Military School, while bigger sleeping quarters all fell into ruin as time passed.

Each with the capacity to hold four to five people, the buildings housed the party's committees, quartermasters, infirmary and military.

A dilapidated bulldozer sits in the middle of the compound. Students stole it from the foothill where it had been used to build a highway, said Manus See-suea, 61, a national park officer and former member of the Thai military.

A number of university students had fled Bangkok and other cities to seek refuge at the party headquarters in the forest after violent government crackdowns on student protesters in the 1970s.

"The Communists did not want any development or comfort around the area, not even a road. They were afraid that the government would reach and defeat them easier if there were an accessible route," Manus said.

Some parts were removed from the tractor to be used for a waterwheel opposite the school. The waterwheel, said to be installed by engineering students from Chulalongkorn University, was used to pound steamed rice.

It was going to be attached to a motor to generate electricity, but the students left the ground before it was done, Manus said.

Many pieces of equipment and educational tools from the era are displayed at the park's tourist information center. They include medical equipment and a surgical technique manual written in Chinese, suggesting the party' strong connection with Communist-run China to the north.

The historical site attracts tourists from both home and abroad, especially during the beginning of the year, when leaves turn red.

"Coming to this place is like going on a time machine. I'm struck by what happened before and sad about it at the same time," said Kanitta Janarsa, 49, a government worker in Phitsanulok, on a recent visit with her colleagues.

When the camp was set up, party members were mostly ethnic Hmong. They were sent to China and North Vietnam with Mao Zedong's sponsorship, to be educated on politics, military and medicine, according to Manus. They returned to spread their knowledge and urge others to join their activities.

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Many medical appliances from various fields such as traditional Chinese acupuncture, modern medicine and textbooks were brought to the base. Moreover, insurgents smuggled many weapons from China and Laos to fight against Thai troops.

The stronghold's population grew after a student uprising in October 1973, and grew even more after a student massacre in October 1976 -- in which at least 46 people were killed as government troops attacked student protestors in Bangkok -- prompted students to flee to the forest to join the Communists.

The influx of new party members resulted in the establishment of the Political and Military School. However, the Communist insurgency ended in 1982 after Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda promised amnesty to the Communists and former student protesters if they defected.

"While I was clearing off the area, I admit that I was extremely scared (for) my life, my friends' lives and those of the enemies whom we might have to shoot," Manus said, recalling his involvement in the military's counterinsurgency operation four decades ago.

Besides the insurgents, many children had been living there as well. Their shoes and belongings were abandoned in the cabins as they left. Some were carrying pigs and walking their ponies down the mountain, he recalled.

"Little kids walking away from the forest reminded me of my siblings," the park officer said, adding that others around him were in tears as they thought of their own children.

He said Phitsanulok's former Communist stronghold is a reminder that neither the Thai soldiers nor the Communists they fought really emerged "victorious" after the decades-long clashes between them.