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AP | May 13, 2010
Major General Khattiya Sawasdiphol, who is reported to have been shot in the head, inspecting the redshirt barricades yesterday. Photograph: KPA/Zuma/Rex Features
A renegade Thai army officer accused of marshalling a paramilitary force among Thailand's redshirt protesters has been shot in the head, apparently by a sniper, an aide said today.
The aide, who answered Major General Khattiya Sawasdiphol's mobile phone, described his injuries as "severe".
The Associated Press called Khattiya's phone after several gunshots and explosions were heard in central Bangkok in the vicinity of the area occupied by the protesters.
"Seh Daeng was shot in the head," the aide – referring to Khattiya by his nickname – said. He ended the call before identifying himself.
It was not possible to verify his claim that Khattiya had been shot by a sniper. Calls to police and army spokesmen were not answered.
Several Thai media outlets also reported that Khattiya had been shot and taken to a hospital.
The Thai government has described Khattiya as a "terrorist" and a mastermind behind violent anti-government protests.
The report of his shooting came amid expectation that security forces would launch a crackdown. The government had said it would impose a military lockdown on the area to evict the thousands of redshirt protesters.
Khattiya, who helped construct the barricades that have brought downtown Bangkok to a halt, had vowed to fight the army if it launched a crackdown.
He was suspended from the army and his actions made him a fugitive from justice, although he wandered freely through the protest zone, signing autographs just metres from security forces keeping watch over the protesters.
Earlier today, the government warned that troops would not hesitate to shoot armed "terrorists".
"During the closing-in operation today, it's possible that terrorists in the area would move in and encounter the officers," Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the spokesman for the agency charged with ending the protest said.
"Therefore, the authorities must execute measures according to international standards and rules of engagement. Live ammunition will be used."
Armoured personnel carriers and snipers were to surround the redshirt protesters who had barricaded themselves behind piles of tyres and bamboo spears, Sansern said.
Leaders of the redshirts were defiant, saying their supporters would never surrender and were not afraid to die.
The redshirts, many from the rural poor, are demanding an immediate dissolution of parliament. They believe the coalition government of the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, came to power illegitimately through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the military.
Abhisit yesterday withdrew an offer to hold elections on 14 November after the redshirts refused to disperse.
They are insisting that the deputy prime minister be held responsible for 10 April clashes between protesters and security forces in another part of Bangkok, which left 25 people dead. Another four were killed in subsequent violence.
The redshirts see Abhisit's government as serving an elite insensitive to the plight of most Thais.
The protesters include many supporters of the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist leader who was accused of corruption and abuse of power and ousted in a 2006 military coup.
Thaksin, who fled overseas to avoid a corruption conviction, is widely believed to be helping bankroll the protests. He claims to be a victim of political persecution.