Thai democracy activists pledge to fight ‘tyranny’ in Ukraine

BANGKOK, March 3 (Reuters) – Remote Thailand might not seem like an obvious place for recruits to Ukraine’s efforts to raise an international force of volunteers to defend against the Russian invasion.

But for former Thai Air Force conscript turned political activist Chanaphong “Ball” Phongpai, the cause is a natural fit for members of the pro-democracy movement that emerged in 2020 to protest a government backed by the army in this Southeast Asian country.

Chanaphong, 28, said he felt upset for the people of Ukraine, especially after reports of Russian attacks on civilians.

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“I have been involved in demanding democracy in my country…and opposing tyranny,” Chanaphong told Reuters in an interview.

“They (Ukrainians) are also fighting for democracy and are now overrun by a superpower and a tyrant, so I wondered what I could do for them,” he said.

Chanaphong and five friends visited the Ukrainian embassy in Bangkok on Wednesday and met a staff member there after registering on a site that compiles information on potential recruits.

In a single day this week, a Thai-language online group gathered more than 2,000 names of people interested in volunteering for Ukraine, the group’s organizer told Reuters.

The Ukrainian embassy in Bangkok did not respond to a request for clarification from Reuters.

But the staff member who met with Chanaphong’s group, who asked that she not be named, said officials were considering applicants who must submit documents online, including proof of military training and a criminal record. blank judiciary.

The staff member also asked potential volunteers to apply by email, not call or visit the embassy.

After completing his mandatory Thai military service, Chanaphong worked as a private security consultant. He said his two-year Air Force training could help Ukrainians evacuate civilians, guard areas and secure supply lines.

“I and other men have basic weapons training, so I think I could be useful in helping save Ukrainians from this crisis,” he said.

His more recent experiences of clashes with Thai riot police during anti-government protests might also be helpful.

“We need to move from holding booby traps to holding guns,” he said.

Thai government spokeswoman Ratchada Thanadirek said there was no law preventing Thai citizens from joining foreign volunteer forces, but people should consider the serious potential danger as Russian forces pound Ukrainian towns with heavy weapons.

Thailand was among 141 countries at the United Nations General Assembly that voted on Wednesday to rebuke Russia for invading Ukraine and demand that Moscow stop fighting and withdraw its military forces. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has also maintained a neutral position since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24.

It is not known whether Chanaphong or his friends will be accepted into the Ukrainian “international legion”, but they have already started preparing.

This week he has increased his usual running regimen to ensure he is in peak physical condition.

“We are fighting for democracy here. They are fighting for their democracy there,” he said. “We are like friends. It’s the same feeling, the same ideology.”

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Written by Panu Wongcha-um. Editing by Kay Johnson and Gerry Doyle

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