501. Telegram From the Embassy in Thailand to the Department of State1

1153. Department pass CINCPAC and CINCPAC POLAD 80. Evening November 9 Sarit had summarily executed by firing squad on street against wall of Wat, 2 men accused arson in connection large fire in Thonburi November 7. This brought total to 3 summary executions, another having been shot November 6 at Pramane Grounds against wall National Library for allegedly hiring a man caught setting fire earlier same day. All three men racial Chinese but apparently last two were Thai nationals. Some of interrogations prior to executions conducted personally by Sarit who has been attending fires and personally directing firemen and police. In all three cases, men reportedly refused to talk up to end.

Following November 9 executions Sarit issued statement that “Beyond all doubt this was case terrorism intended undermine peace and happiness Thai people. It bore unmistakable imprint Communist strategy …2 Would like impress upon (my fellow countrymen) terrible menace of Communism which has now revealed self with all its horrors and callousness to pain and suffering in our beloved country.” In later communiqué, Sarit stated all of four serious fires during week were Communist retaliation against Revolutionary Party’s drive against Communists and warned RP would take anti-Communist action stronger than ever before in Thai history.” Asked cooperation with authorities in order “eliminate Communism, biggest enemy of Thai people.”

Arson for collection insurance has long been serious problem in Bangkok and there is little doubt that current series fires falls into this category, e.g., press reports from police sources that two men executed November 9 had insured empty store building where fire started for 400,000 baht. Sarit has called meeting of fire insurance company managers at RP headquarters for morning November 10. Under these circumstances, blaming Communist conspiracy for fires not very convincing.

Sarit himself has repeatedly emphasized personal responsibility for executions: “I shall be happy face all consequences this decision alone”. He was present at both executions and gave command to fire at second.

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While Embassy agrees strong action against arsonists justifiable can not but deplore summary procedure without even pro forma court martial. Though reactions to first execution locally have been generally approving, continuation this procedure, especially if extended to other offenses, will raise questions “Who is safe and who is next?” (Which will undoubtedly also occur to potential or actual political opponents.) Embassy officer who visited Pramane Grounds (where first execution took place) evening November 9 found crowd gathered in anticipation further executions (which actually took place in Thonburi) in mood subdued uneasiness.

Prominent leader of Chinese community (Chulin Lamsan) who considers self assimilated Thai, told another Embassy officer November 9 (before second execution) that Chinese approve first execution but deplore fact that Thai who actually set fire not executed. Report unknown reliability from police CID claims there is fear strong reaction in Chinese community.

[1 line of source text not declassified] told me in confidence Sarit (who was 1 hour late for appointment) gave appearance very ill man. Said that while affable Sarit seemed unable grasp or give meaningful response to [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] attempts discuss economic and financial matters. Said Sarit, and to greater extent Chalermchai, spoke bitterly of failure last summer in negotiations obtain additional US aid. “If left up to President Eisenhower who understood our problems negotiations would have been successful but those below President blocked our efforts”.

Present trend thus increasingly disturbing and, unless reversed, coming days or weeks may well bring a move against Sarit, particularly if it appears failing health is causing him to lose ability maintain control.

I do not plan take initiative raise matter summary executions but will take advantage any opportunities informally indicate disturbance as failure observe legal norms to be expected even under martial law. Saturday evening3 Pote Sarasin indicated in my presence to senior army officer close to Sarit (Amnuey) his disturbance at failure Sarit observe any legal forms. Am satisfied many other Thais, even in military group, feel same way but are not willing now to oppose Sarit on this issue.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 792.00/11–1058. Confidential. Repeated to Saigon, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Rangoon, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Taipei, Hong Kong, Chiengmai, and CINCPAC.
  2. Ellipsis in the source text.
  3. November 8.