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Troops break into Red Shirt camp

By Matt Brown, Zoe Daniel, staff

Updated May 19, 2010 13:23:00

Thai soldiers backed up by armoured vehicles have broken into the Red Shirt protest camp in the heart of Bangkok, as a senior official trying to broker a peaceful resolution to the stand-off warned of "unbearable" loss of life.

Armoured vehicles broke through a barricade at the main entrance of the protest camp and witnesses say at least two people were shot as troops and protesters exchanged fire.

The Thai defence minister says the campaign is aimed at sealing off the sprawling rally base.

"It's an intensifying containment operation to plug all the loopholes and to 100 per cent control the area," defence minister General Prawit Wongsuwon said.

However he did not rule out the possibility that troops could push further into the protest zone, where there are still thousands of Reds supporters including many women and children.

"It depends on the situation, but the authorities will avoid losses," he said, expressing frustration over the failure of attempts to negotiate a peaceful way out of the crisis.

"What can we do to stop the protest - they don't want to yield at all. Negotiation is extremely difficult."

The protesters have set fire to one of the barricades and thick black smoke is billowing into the air. A Reuters cameraman saw an armoured personnel carrier lead a fire engine through the burning tyre barricade.

"Negotiations are over now," said General Lertrat Rattanavanich, one of a group of 60 senators who attempted to mediate between the government and the Red Shirts, who defied a Monday deadline to disperse.

"The government has chosen to decisively enforce the law. The signals are that absolutely the army will win, but the losses will be unbearable. Certainly based on all the signs that I have seen there will be a crackdown, not a containment."

But an adviser to the prime minister said the government was still willing to talk to anti-government protesters if they called off their protest.

"We are still ready to talk. My line is open but the protest has to end first," adviser Korbsak Sabhavasau told a television station.

TV pictures showed smoke rising over the site of the Red Shirts camp.

Earlier troops reportedly fired warning shots ahead of the operation to evict the anti-government protesters from their camp in the middle of the Thai capital.

Up to 40 armoured personnel carriers were seen moving towards the area where protesters have been camped for two months.

Soldiers warned protesters to leave the site immediately.

Many troops could be seen massing around the perimeters of the site in various directions.

Last night troops moved sandbags onto SkyTrain bridges around the outer barricades.

It is understood that Red Shirt leaders have told vulnerable people to move into a temple within the site. Others have been warned that they may have to fight.

Helicopters have moved in and a water cannon has also been used against some protesters.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is advising Australians in Bangkok to stay indoors.

"We are receiving reports of significant movement of troops near the rally site in Bangkok," it said.

- ABC/agencies

Tags: unrest-conflict-and-war, thailand

First posted May 19, 2010 09:00:00

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