Pattaya Daily News

29 June 2007 :: 17:06:29 pm 21160

A True story of a Thai Gunman!!

Now, if I am paid a million baht to shoot a man, I will not do it, for I have already killed too many men. The last one I killed was a teacher whose name I knew from a newspaper a day after I shot him.
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A hired gunman may know absolutely nothing of his victims, or any reasons why he must shoot them. All I had were his photograph and address. The rest was quite easy: A few days of watching, checking his routine and where to wait for the moment to pull the trigger.

I knew from a newspaper that he was a schoolteacher, and that morning when I shot him, he was on his way from his house to lead a protest against the leasing of a rain forest from the Department of Forestry by the wife of a powerful and wealthy politician. But I did not know for sure who wanted him dead. A hired gunman is not hired directly by the people who want to have their enemies killed; the orders come from several levels of agents. Boxers have their promotors and managers, and so have we. And like boxers, we have different ranks and prices. If you want to get rid of a top judge, for instance, you don’t hire a low-grade gun- man like me. I am not even a trained sharpshooter; I am just a peasant turned gunman.

When I read of the dead teacher in the newspaper and learned that he wanted to lead his students to make a protest in order to safeguard the rain forest in his district, I felt sick inside for having killed him. I felt so sick that I did not want to eat for several days. I could not sleep. I lay awake thinking of him, a man who believed that it was wrong to lease or give a concession to someone very rich and influential to turn forests or public lands into private properties.

Unarmed and unaware of death a few paces away, he came towards me. The death of that schoolteacher made me think of my own past, the path that led me to be a hired gunman.

I was born in a village in Mahasarakam, where Naam Siaw is our lifeline, a small river that keeps us alive in searing summer seasons. In my young days, I could say wholeheartedly that there were plenty of fish, shrimps, frogs and eels in the river and rice in the paddy fields, a saying we learned in school. Now there are hardly any fish in Naam Siaw and rice in the fields of our village. It began when several powerful investors turned rice fields into salt farming; vast areas of paddies became salt-making fields. They brought up the brine from underneath the topsoil and spread it on fields to be evaporated by the sun. From these salt farms some of the salty water seeped through the mounds, and the waste was let go into the nearby rice fields and canals. It did not take long; the soil of our paddy fields became salty and the water in Naam Siaw became salty and then we could not grow rice and the fish died.

We, poor ignorant peasants, did not know at the time why such vast areas of rice fields must be turned into salt farms; we did not know that underneath the soil of Esarn there were widespread salt deposits from which, in summer, salt pans appeared on the surface, making the bare earth white and crusty. Later from some newspapers we learned that salt farm owners in Esarn supplied the salt to factories to produce glass and certain chemicals.

One year, in April, a group of farmers, whose rice fields were badly damaged by salt water from the influential men’s salt farms, walked to the Wapipatoom District Office to tell the officials of our grievances. The police rounded us up as if we were a herd of water buffaloes; most of us were beaten with wooden clubs. Many of us were bleeding very badly and then we were thrown in jail where we were locked up for nearly a month.

When the fish in Naam Siaw died and we could not grow rice any more on the salty soil, we had to sell our land very cheap to the people who turned it into bigger salt farms. With the money from selling our paddy fields, I hired a pick-up to take my wife and child and my father to a new land at Pakam District in the southern part of Burirum, bordering Cambodia, where some Wapipatoom farmers had gone ahead of us to find new places to live. One Of them was my uncle who helped me find a part of a forest which some influential persons claimed to be theirs and I, like all of the new settlers in the area, became a tenant who was to pay rent annually.

It took only a few days to build a hut from hand-hewn trees and bamboo and corgon grass, and we started cutting down trees to burn, clearing the land for planting maize and fruit trees. My father, my wife and I worked all day long to slash and burn and soon the forest land was bare and we waited for the rains to come. 

After a few monsoon seasons, news came that the forest of Pakam had been declared ‘degraded’ by the Department of Forestry due to us, squatters, who encroached on the forest reserve. Therefore we must move out so that the denuded land could be planted with eucalyptus trees in the name of reforestation under a concession to certain individuals who would supply the fast growing eucalyptus trees to the pulp and paper factories.

Armed men came and cut down fruit trees and burned the huts and arrested many settlers of Pakam, but I, not knowing where we could go, stayed on while we were not bodily forced by gunmen to leave the land. I happened to hear from my neighbours that in a nearby Pakam forest reserve there were a monk and some of his followers who were trying to protect the forest from logging and eventually from being used as eucalyptus plantations. The monk and his men safeguarded the forest by keeping watch and by ‘ordaining’ each big tree.

They tied yellow robes around the trees to ordain them and thus make them sacred against illegal logging. But in vain. The monk and his men were arrested and charged with encroaching on a forest reserve which eventually was logged and planted with eucalyptus trees for the pulp and paper factories.

Meanwhile, without a new place to move to and because my father was very sick with malaria, we remained on the land. One day armed men came while I was deep in the forest in search of a medicinal tree and herbs to cure my father of his illness. On my return I found that my hut was burnt, and my wife, son and father were murdered. And so, with great sorrow and anger in my heart, I could shoot anyone I was hired to kill. But when I killed the teacher who was trying to protect a forest re- serve, I felt I had killed myself since at one time I had also tried to protect a forest reserve of Pakam.

The gunmen who killed my father, my wife, my son and several squatters of Pakam were hunting me because I knew of their evil deeds. I escaped by walking a long distance to avoid all the police check-points at Nangrong, Chokechai and pakthongchai. In Bangkok, I was too old to be trained as a boxer, and too illiterate to be anything but a coolie. I got a job carrying sacks of rice at a large silo on the outskirts of Bangkok, and there I got mixed up with some dubious characters. One of them was a hired gunman in hiding after having done his job. I never found out whom he had killed, but he boasted a little about a contract he took to shoot a business tycoon who had survived several attempts by other hired murderers.

Being also from Esarn, he took to me as if we were brothers. One day he showed me his pistol, the tool of his trade. When I held it in my hand, I trembled; the deadly weapon became heavier and heavier and I had to hand it back to its owner. Later I asked him to let me hold it once more; my heart beat fast then as I aimed it at some imaginary figures I wanted to kill to avenge my family. To gain his trust, I told him my life story and then asked him to train me as a gunman for hire, a killer. 

In a span of five years I shot thirty men, and in the trade I became known as Muepuen Samsip Sop (the thirty corpse gunman). As a result, I could command a higher price per head. But among the gunmen I was still classed as low grade because I lacked finesse and certain techniques of following and shooting. They said I rushed in, eager to pull the trigger. True enough, I did not care for finesse and the risk of being seen, having witnesses or leaving traces behind. The main thing was I wanted to kill though I did not know whether the targets were good or bad, honest or greedy. I hoped that some of them might be among those who were responsible for destroying rice fields and rivers with waste from factories and salt farms and for the eviction of poor people from their homes, and who had a role in logging and destroying the forests and national parks.

When I was hired to kill a young man in Khon Khaen, I was rather reluctant, having just killed an innocent and good man, that schoolteacher. I delayed the plan for a week because this time I wanted to know a little of the man I was to kill. At least I wanted to know his name and his profession instead of having only his photograph in my pocket. It would be easy to shoot a man of no importance, of no power or influence and wealth. I enquired quietly about him and found out that he was a student who was leading a protest against the pollution of the Pong and Chee Rivers by factories on their banks and salt farming in Mahasarakam, my old home province. Should I kill a student who was doing the very thing I should have done myself, had I only known how? The Pong River and the Chee River are two lifelines of millions of people in Esarn, but then they have been so badly polluted with waste from the factories in Khon Khaen that thousands of stinking dead fish floated from that part of the Chee in Muang Khon Khaen to Muang Ubol some 300 kilometres away. The polluted water could not be used by men or animals; and I was hired to kill that protest leader who also spearheaded the demonstration against salt farming in Mahasarakam. As a rodent, he must have known the untold damage the pollution had caused to rivers and rice fields.

I went to him and told him of the plot to kill Lim, and then disappeared. I crossed the Mekong River and lived quietly in Laos, changing my identity and becoming a monk, residing in a temple of Luang Prabang. I will not return to Esarn. I will stay here in Laos where we speak the same language. The Esarn people and the Laotians are brothers, elated not only by the common Lao language but IY culture as well. I might have wanted to go back to Esarn if my wife, my son or my father were still live, or if I had a piece of land to live on, despite lie fear that one day the Big Boss of hired gunmen will hire someone to kill me for not accomplishing lie job assigned, and for knowing too much.

Because in those days I was a poor and stupid peasant of Esarn who could barely read and write, it took me years to realize that as tenants of powerful people who claimed forest reserves as their own, we were their instruments to slash and bum the forest so that a few years later the woods could be classified ‘degraded’. And because of rampant corruption, the so-called ‘degraded’ forests and parts of national parks were leased to influential men who ‘developed’ he areas as resorts, and golf courses, or under the disguise of reforestation to plant the fast growing eucalyptus trees to supply the pulp and paper factories. It took me years to realize why good people like the dead schoolteacher who tried to prevent the leasing of a forest reserve to a rich and powerful family, and a student leader of Khon Khaen, who tried to call attention to the pollution of rivers in Earn, had to die. And I was the monstrous instrument which brought death to so many good men, to men who fought against Evil.

Here, in Laos, I now see what is happening to the Lao rain forest which loggers are eyeing with greed. Now the bridge across the Mekong River has been finished, making the transportation between Thailand and Laos quicker and easier. It will not take long for them to rob Laos of its trees, leaving a legacy of denuded hills and eroded land behind.


Stories  By..Pira Sudtham

A NOVICE
PEOPLE OF ESARN
Pira Sudham (born 1942, Thai พีระ สุธรรม) is a writer from the Isan region of Thailand. He was born to a family of poor farmers in Na Pho, Buriram Province. At the age of fourteen he was sent to Bangkok to study, where he lived as a dek wat (a boy who lives in a temple and assists monks). He later went on to study at Chulalongkorn University, Auckland University and then Victoria University of Wellingtoncontinue…

A NOVICE

Monsoonal rains chilled the morning. My mother rubbed my bare chest and arms with a steamy cloth which she had soaked in hot water. “Be obedient and subservient,” she said to me. “Be good and your good deeds will protect you.” 
All the while tears welled up inside me, but I , forced myself not to weep. A ten-year old boy should not cry at the time of parting. I was to go away from home, to be taken by a monk to a city temple.
continue…
A SAD TALE OF ESARN CHILDREN
A sad tale of Esarn children resorting to saltlick to appease their hunger seems hauntingly real. And I keep returning to Esarn, Thailand’s poorest region, to commit to memory a cycle of life in villages, to be among the people whom I love and to help them ease the hardship and scarcity. continue…
Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : PDN staff   Category : Stories

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