As ageing relatives of the victims of the "bloody May" crackdown on anti-government protesters gathered on Thursday morning for the 20th commemoration, many wondered whether they would live long enough to see the completion of the May 1992 Monument, planned as a remembrance for their lost loved ones.
They took turns to talk about the people’s movement that brought down the military government of Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon and encouraged future generations to carry the torch of their fighting spirit.
Among the key speakers were Adul Khieuboribun, chairman of the May 1992 Relatives group, Mahidol University's Institute of Human Rights and Peace Study head Gothom Arya, who is also chairman of the May 1992 Foundation, Thammasat University vice rector Prinya Thewanaruemitkul, also chair of the 20th Commemoration Organising Committee, Democrat MP Ong-art Klampaiboon, and Pheu Thai list MP Jatuporn Prompan.
Others at the commemoration included relatives of the dead and missing, and key figures in the May 1992 incident, including Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang who was a key figure in the middle class-led student protest. After the military began its bloody crackdown His Majesty the King called on Gen Suchinda and Maj-Gen Chamlong to end the conflict.
The commemoration at the Peace Blessing Park at the foot of Ratchadamnoen Avenue, near the Lottery Office, continues until Sunday. And as usual it is expected to spark some confrontation between rival activists attending the event.
Maj Gen Chamlong, who in 1992 was leader of the Palang Dharma political party and prime mover of the protest movement, on Thursday moved his seat from the front to the back row after he noticed the presence of Jatuporn Prompan, now co-leader of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) who was a core member of Ramkhamhaeng University’s Sajatham student party during the 1992 incident.
When Mr Jatuporn, a Pheu Thai list MP, took the podium for a commemorative speech, Maj Gen Chamlong left.
His defamation suit against Mr Jatuporn for accusing the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy of inciting nationalistic fervour to generate protests against Cambodian ownership of Preah Vihear temple was thrown out by the court on Thursday morning. The bench ruled Mr Jatuporn’s verbal onslaught was just an expression of his political opinion.
The relatives of the dead and injured as well as the missing are hoping to have a monument to remember their loved ones in the key juncture of Thailand's political history, but their dream has never come true due to several factors including the politicking of those in power, some members said.
Also a red tape bureaucracy and the cumbersome procedure in relocating lottery retailers has attributed to the two-decade delay. "But the most frustrating is local influential figures, especially from the Lottery Office and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, some of whom have even bribed certain relatives to have the monument moved elsewhere," sources said.
The lack of funding has been a problem for several years, but now the foundation has taken charge of the project. "There remain some technical problems. Though the height of the statute was lowered to match Rattankosin Island regulations, the design blueprint has yet to blend in with an adjacent park, to be created in the near future," said the members.
Sangwien Pohmuang, 78, said she hoped this government would help settle the "unfinished business" as it was voted into power by a majority of the people.
"The problem of disappearances is a thorny issue for the families concerned. We would like to see somebody end this traumatic chapter as soon as possible," said Klong Dan resident Sangwien.
Her youngest son Sompong, then 23, has been missing since observing the anti-military government demonstrations on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. He was with his elder sister who had gone to the nearby Labour Office to sort out the problem of her being laid-off, but he saw a huge crowd and told his sister to go back home alone, said Mrs Sangwien.
"I have no hope that he's still alive. It is 20 years already. The authorities should help return his remains and relics, and provide financial and remembrance remedies. So far, nobody can settle this for us," said Mrs Sangwien.
Lek Prachu, 100, from Bangkok, and Sangwien Pohmuang, 78, from Samutprakan have been waiting for the closure of their missing sons.
Lek Prachu, of Phaya Thai in Bangkok, said he used to feel sorry for those who lost family members whenever they gathered for commemoration ceremonies and thought he was a bit luckier because although his son was missing there was no corpse.
"But it is 20 years on now. I’ve been waiting too long to get the body of my son back for burial rituals," said Mr Lek, a Muslim who just had his 100th birthday.
"It's been tiring and discouraging throughout these years. I’ve been to every place where there might be some of Somwang's remains. I reported his disappearance to Nang Lerng police station. But so far no one can tell me where my son is or how he died," said Mr Lek.
Despite his fatigue, he said he still felt a need to attend the annual commemoration to remember his son.
"My last wish is that the monument with my son’s name will be completed before I die. Khun Adul (Khieuboribun) has sort of ordered me not to die, but to survive until the monument is completed. Please help me not to have to wait too long," he said.
Mr Jatuporn told reporters that a budget for the construction of the memorial had been approved a long time ago, during the Thaksin I administration, but there were technical problems.
He said he would consult with Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung to help resolve the problems.