Communist insurgency in Thailand

The communist insurgency in Thailand was a guerrilla war lasting from 1965 until 1983, fought mainly between the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) and the government of Thailand. The war began to wind down in 1980 following the declaration of an amnesty, and in 1983, the CPT abandoned the insurgency entirely, ending the conflict.

Communist insurgency in Thailand
Part of the Cold War

A zinc bowl engraved with Thai message reading "Obliterate all the communists - out of the soil of Thailand" - a propaganda tool against communist insurgency in Thailand, discovered in Wanon Niwat district, Sakon Nakhon province
(18 years)

Thai government victory

  • Amnesty declared on 23 April 1980 by the Thai government
  • Order 66/2523 signed by Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda
  • Communist insurgency declines and ends in 1983


Republic of China (until July 1967)

 United States[4]

Supported by:
 Indonesia (from 1968)[5]
Commanders and leaders
  • Phayom Chulanont
  • Udom Srisuwan
  • Damri Ruangsutham (POW)
  • Wirat Anghathawon (POW)
  • Thong Chaemsri (POW)
  • Chit Phumisak †
  • Surachai Danwattananusorn (POW)
Royal Thai Armed Forces: 127,700
Royal Thai Police: 45,800[4]
1,000–12,000 rebels
5,000–8,000 sympathizers[6][8]
Casualties and losses
~90 soldiers and police killed
33 soldiers and police killed
1,450+ soldiers, police, and officials killed
100+ wounded
418 soldiers and police killed
133 insurgents killed and 49 captured[12]
93 insurgents killed
unknown captured
365+ insurgents killed
30+ wounded
49+ captured
1,172 insurgents killed[15]
Unknown killed
3,000+ insurgents surrendered
Unknown civilian deaths (3,008 killed by government forces alone in 1971–1973)[17]


Ta Ko Bi Cave, a former hideout of communists in Thailand

In 1927, Chinese communist Han Minghuang attempted to create a communist organization in Bangkok before being arrested.[9] Ho Chi Minh visited northern Thailand the following year, attempting to organize soviets in local Vietnamese communities.[9] In the aftermath of the Siamese revolution of 1932, conservative Prime Minister Phraya Manopakorn accused his political opponent Pridi Panomyong of being a communist, with his government passing the Anti-Communist Act of 1933, which criminalized communism.[9]

During World War II, communists formed an alliance with the Free Thai Movement. In 1946, Pridi Panomyong assumed office, repealing the Anti-Communist Act and establishing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.[9]

In 1949, Pridi Phanomyong's attempt to return to power after the 1947 coup d'état was crushed. The suppression of the "palace rebellion" convinced the CPT leadership that better preparations had to be made in order for a future rebellion to succeed.[18]

The failure of the 1952 Peace Rebellion was followed by the 13 November 1952 Anti-Communist Act. The act was sparked by the spontaneous involvement of a small number of communist party members in the rebellion.[18]

During the course of the Korean War, the CPT continued to stockpile weaponry in rural areas and make general preparations for armed struggle. At the same time, the CPT formed the Peace Committee of Thailand, a pacifist movement operating mainly in urban areas. The Peace Committee contributed to CPT's expansion and the rise of anti-American sentiment in the country.[18]

In 1960, North Vietnam created a training camp for Thai and Laotian volunteers in Hoa Binh Province, Vietnam. A total of 400 people attended the camp in its first year of operation.[9]

Ideologically, the CPT aligned with Maoism and during the Sino-Soviet split the party sided with the Communist Party of China. In October 1964, the organization declared its position in a congratulatory message on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the foundation of the People's Republic of China,[6] and the following month a group of Thai communists formed the Thailand Independence Movement in Peking, China.[9]

On 8 December 1964, the Thailand Independence Movement issued a manifesto demanding the removal of US military personnel from Thailand and calling for regime change. The manifesto was later also broadcast by Radio Peking.[9] Former Thai army officer Phayon Chulanont established the Thai Patriotic Front, another Thai communist organization, on 1 January 1965.[9] The two parties formed the Thai United Patriotic Front on 15 December 1966. Hill tribesmen, as well as the Chinese and Vietnamese ethnic minorities, formed the backbone of the movement.[9]


In the early 1950s, a group of 50 Thai communists traveled to Beijing, where they received training in ideology and propaganda. In 1961, small groups of Pathet Lao insurgents infiltrated north Thailand. Local communist party cells were organized and volunteers were sent to Chinese, Laotian and North Vietnamese training camps, where training focused on armed struggle and terror tactics to fight capitalism in the region. Between 1962 and 1965, 350 Thai nationals underwent an eight-month training course in North Vietnam. The guerrillas initially possessed only a limited number of flintlocks as well as French, Chinese and Japanese weapons. In the first half of 1965, the rebels smuggled approximately 3,000 US-made weapons and 90,000 rounds of ammunition from Laos. The shipment, originally supplied to the US-supported Royal Lao Armed Forces, was instead sold to smugglers who in turn traded the weapons to the CPT.[4][8]

Between 1961 and 1965, insurgents carried out 17 political assassinations. They avoided full scale guerrilla warfare until the summer of 1965, when militants began engaging Thai security forces. A total of 13 clashes were recorded during that period.[4] The second half of 1965 was marked by a further 25 violent incidents,[4] and starting in November 1965, CPT insurgents began undertaking more elaborate operations, including an ambush on a Thai police patrol outside Mukdahan, at that time in Nakhon Phanom Province.[9]

The insurgency spread to other parts of Thailand in 1966, although 90 percent of insurgency-related incidents occurred in the northeast of the country.[4] On 14 January 1966, a spokesman representing the Thai Patriotic Front called for the start of a "people's war" in Thailand. The statement marked an escalation of violence in the conflict, and in early April 1966 rebels killed 16 Thai soldiers and wounded 13 others during clashes in Chiang Rai Province.[9] A total of 45 security personnel and 65 civilians were killed by insurgent attacks during the first half of 1966.[9]

Despite five insurgent attacks on the bases used by the United States Air Force in Thailand, American involvement in the conflict remained limited.[4][19]

Following the defeat of the National Revolutionary Army in the Chinese Civil War, its 49th Division crossed into Thailand from neighboring Yunnan. The Chinese troops quickly integrated into Thai society, engaging in the lucrative opium trade under the aegis of corrupt officials. Drug trade provided an important source of income for the local population, while at the same time nationalist troops cooperated with the government during its counter-insurgency operations. In July 1967, the 1967 Opium War broke out when opium growers refused to pay taxes to the Kuomintang. Government forces became involved in the conflict, destroying a number of villages and resettling suspected communists. The newly transferred populations provided new recruits for the CPT.[1]

In February and August 1967, the Thai government conducted a number of counter-insurgency raids in Bangkok and Thonburi, arresting 30 CPT members including secretary-general Thong Chaemsri.[9] Further arrests ensued in October and November 1968.[9]

The Thai government deployed over 12,000 troops to the country's northern provinces in January 1972, carrying out a six-week operation in which over 200 militants were killed. The government's casualties during the operation amounted to 30 soldiers killed and 100 wounded.[9]

In late 1972, the Royal Thai Army, police, and volunteer defence forces committed the Red Drum killings of more than 200[17] (unofficial accounts speak of up to 3,000)[20][21] civilians who were accused of supporting communists in Tambon Lam Sai, Phatthalung Province, southern Thailand. The massacre was probably ordered by the government's Communist Suppression Operations Command (CSOC).[17][22]

It was only one example "of a pattern of widespread abuse of power by the army and enforcement agencies"[23] during the brutal anti-communist operations of 1971–1973 that took an official death toll of 3,008 civilians throughout the country[17] (while unofficial estimates are between 1,000 and 3,000 in Phatthalung Province alone).[21] Those killed were accused of working with the CPT. Until that point, communist suspects arrested by soldiers were normally shot by the roadside. The "red oil drum" technique was later introduced to eliminate any possible evidence. Suspects were clubbed to a point of semi-consciousness before being dumped in gasoline-filled, used oil drums and burnt alive.[24][25] The 200 litre red drums had an iron grille divider with a fire below and the suspect above.[26]

On 6 October 1976, amid rising fears of a communist takeover similar to the one that had taken place in Vietnam, anti-communist police and paramilitaries attacked a leftist student demonstration at Thammasat University in Bangkok, during an incident that became known as the Thammasat University massacre. According to official estimates, 46 students were killed and 167 wounded.[27]

From 1979, amid the rise of Thai nationalism and the deterioration of China–Vietnam relations, the CPT fell into serious turmoil. The pro-Vietnamese wing had eventually seceded and formed a separated faction called Pak Mai.[6]

Efforts to end the insurgency led to an amnesty being declared on 23 April 1980 when Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda signed Order 66/2523. The order significantly contributed to the decline of the insurgency, as it granted amnesty to defectors and promoted political participation and democratic processes. By 1983, the insurgency had come to an end.[28]

See also


  1. "Thailand" (PDF). Stanford University. 19 June 2005. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  2. Chin Peng, pp.479–80
  3. NIE report
  4. "Communist Insurgency In Thailand". CIA Report. Retrieved 23 November 2022.
  5. Wassana Nanuam (August 2015). "Engagement of Malaysia and Indonesia on Counter Insurgency in the South of Thailand" (PDF). Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 September 2015. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  6. "Anatomy of a Counterinsurgency Victory" (PDF). January 2007. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  7. Sison, Jose Maria. "Notes on People's War in Southeast Asia"
  8. Wilfred Koplowitz (April 1967). "A Profile of Communist Insurgency-The Case of Thailand" (PDF). The Senior Seminar in Foreign Policy 1966–67. Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  9. "The Communist Insurgency In Thailand". Marine Corps Gazette. March 1973. Archived from the original on 1 October 2015. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  10. Prizzia, Ross (1985) "Thailand in Transition: The Role of Oppositional Forces" (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press), 19–20, 24.
  11. Prizzia, Ross (1985) "Thailand in Transition: The Role of Oppositional Forces" (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press), 19–20, 24.
  12. Note: these are figures for Dec. 25 1965 to Jan. 16 1967. The total number of suspects "arrested or surrendered" in this time was 3,450, but only 49 were convicted, with the rest being listed as "released" or "under investigation." See page 9.
  13. Prizzia, Ross (1985) "Thailand in Transition: The Role of Oppositional Forces" (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press), 19–20, 24.
  14. Prizzia, Ross (1985) "Thailand in Transition: The Role of Oppositional Forces" (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press), 19–20, 24.
  15. Prizzia, Ross (1985) "Thailand in Transition: The Role of Oppositional Forces" (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press), 19–20, 24.
  16. Prizzia, Ross (1985) "Thailand in Transition: The Role of Oppositional Forces" (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press), 19–20, 24.
  17. Jularat Damrongviteetham (2013). Narratives of the "Red Barrel" Incident. p. 101.
  18. Takahashi Katsuyuki. "How did the Communist Party of Thailand extend a United Front?" (PDF). Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  19. Vick, Alan (1995). Snakes in the Eagle's Nest A History of Ground Attacks on Air bases (PDF). Rand Corporation. pp. 80–4. ISBN 9780833016294.
  20. Tyrell Haberkorn (2013). Getting Away with Murder in Thailand. p. 186.
  21. Matthew Zipple (2014). "Thailand's Red Drum Murders Through an Analysis of Declassified Documents": 91. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  22. Summary of World Broadcasts: Far East, Part 3. Monitoring Service of the BBC. 1976.
  23. Kim, Sung Chull; Ganesan, Narayanan (2013). State Violence in East Asia. University Press of Kentucky. p. 259. ISBN 9780813136790.
  24. "[untitled]". The Bangkok Post. 30 March 1975.
  25. Peagam, Norman (14 March 1975). "Probing the 'Red Drum' Atrocities". Far Eastern Economic Review.
  26. "POLITICS: Thailand Remembers a Dictator". Inter Press Service. 18 June 2004. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  27. Handley, Paul M. The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10682-3, p. 236.
  28. Bunbongkarn, Suchit (2004). "The Military and Democracy in Thailand". In R.J. May & Viberto Selochan (ed.). The Military and Democracy in Asia and the Pacific. ANU E Press. pp. 52–54. ISBN 1920942017. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
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