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Shot in the head: Thailand's renegade general


That's not Maj. Gen. Khattiya "Seh Daeng" Sawisdipol, the renegade Thai army general shot in the head tonight while chatting with reporters.

That's one of his many disciples, wearing a mask of his likeness and toting a mock grenade launcher. Tonight, as the general lies in an intensive care and surgeons pick fragments from his skull, many are wondering when — not if — his followers will strike back.

As you catch headlines this morning about a Thai army general shot down, you'll be forgiven for assuming that anti-government "Red Shirt" protesters took aim at the military as it tried to disperse their downtown encampment.

But in Bangkok these days, nothing is that simple.

Seh Daeng is no ordinary general. He's known throughout Thailand for his published tales of killing Thai communists in the 1970s, secretly aiding the C.I.A. and leading armed squads on stealth missions.

But of late, he's become better known as the face of militant extremism within the Red Shirts' movement to drive out the ruling party. He's so openly agreeable to violence, in fact, that the faction's core leadership has disavowed him on stage.

Still, many Red Shirts inside their downtown encampment revere the general for promising to protect them with his personal militia. Inside the camp, stalls sell his paperback tell-alls; one depicts him armed atop a white horse. For protesters who want vengeance, Seh Daeng is their man.

The shooting of Seh Daeng will surely implode the already-crumbling government/Red Shirt negotiations that could have returned peace to Bangkok. The army has already cut power to parts of the city and set up checkpoints near the Red Shirts' camp.

Many will rightly wonder why a high-profile figurehead — who is wanted by police for breaching Bangkok's state of emergency — was milling about the protest site after dark. He's actually there all the time, patrolling with impunity.

You might also wonder how a general who curses out his superiors on television is still on active duty. When Seh Daeng was assigned to teach aerobics last year as punishment, he invented a new dance: the "throwing a hand grenade" dance.

For more than a year, as Seh Daeng has muttered threats against the government and paraded his personal militia, he has appeared totally unstoppable.

Until now. Whoever shot this general is now on the wrong side of his followers, who are hardly shy about their desire for revenge.