Nick Nostitz in the killing zone
Sitting here at home, I wonder if this day, the 15th of May, has been real, or just a terrible nightmare. Never in my whole life have I been so scared. I thought that I am going to die today.
At lunch time I went to Samliem Din Daeng to observe the protesters there. There were a few protesters around, not more than a few hundred. Lots of debris from last night’s clashes. A burned out military truck, still smoldering. People brought tires to build barricades. A municipal water truck was brought.
After a while the protesters moved the truck along Rajaparop Road towards the military lines, to use as a barricade against army fire. A few protesters moved a few dozen tires to build a barricade. One of the protesters joked around with a slingshot, in front of the cameras of us photographers: “See – that are our weapons against the soldiers”.[Click on images for larger versions; scroll over for captions.]
The protesters moved the tires further along the road, in front of the Shell gas station near Soi Rang Naam. I positioned myself at the gas station as cover, in case the army would open fire. And straight away the army opened fire. Maybe 5 meters from me, on the road a small group of protesters was stuck behind the tires while bullets passed by. It made a sickening sound when bullets hit the protester who had just joked around with us – in the arm and in the stomach. A few protesters on our side tried to throw a rope over to pull the injured protester to us, but it did not work. The shooting never stopped. Another protester, who tried to crawl away, was hit in the leg and the shoulder. One guy managed to run over to us. I began losing any sense of time. One more of the group managed to cross over to us. Another guy was hit in the arm. After a while the two lightly injured guys ran over to us, one of them falling and crawling into safety. I feared he was hit again.
In the back of the gas station was a toilet, a small temporary safe zone. The guy with the shoulder and leg wounds had only grazing wounds. He, the other protester with the injured arm, and a few journos climbed over the wall. I went back to the old spot, to see what happened with the protesters still stuck behind the tires. One more protester made it into safety, ran across the gas station.
With terror I realized that the soldiers began moving to us. Shots were fired into the gas station. I hid first behind a car parked there, but had a bad feeling that I was in the very wrong spot, and that I had to get out as fast as I could. I ran back to the toilets, about 40 meters, realizing that I was shot at while I was running. My legs nearly gave in. Naked terrible unbelievable fear.
Right after the man with the gut shot was dragged there as well. I took a few photos, and made it over the wall as well. I jumped into a nice garden with a main house and a two wooden side houses. In the back were a few journalists and protesters. The people who lived there gave us water. I saw that at the wall the injured guy was lifted over, and went there trying to help. I heard soldiers running in the gas station behind the wall. The two people who lifted the man over ran towards the house. I couldn’t make it anymore, and pressed myself behind some bushes against the wall. I saw the injured man slip into a small artificial lake at the wall, maybe ten meters besides me.
Behind the wall, at the gas station, I heard soldiers shouting. Some people must have still been stuck in the toilets. Suddenly there was a long burst of gunfire, I saw shells flying over the wall. I heard pleading, shouting and what sounded like boots hitting flesh. I was more scared than ever in my life before, being stuck behind that wall. I prayed that just now nobody would call my mobile phone. I was terrified of the possibility that the soldiers would just fire over the wall as they must have known that people climbed over here.
I heard a soldier giving orders to come out or be shot dead. At first I thought he meant me, but I saw his head over the wall shouting at the man in the pool. I decided that I should make myself known, and shouted that I am a foreign journalist, and to please not shoot me. I shouted several times before the soldier seemed to take notice. I showed my open hands, he ordered me out. I walked towards him, and explained that the man in the water had a gut shot, and a bad shot in the arm. He floated in the pool, his face and stomach barely above the waterline.
The soldier ordered me to pull him out. Another soldier has also jumped over the wall, a third soldier secured from above the wall. While I tried to pull the man out of the water he pleaded, with a weak voice, that he just can’t take it anymore. He was too heavy. I asked one of the soldiers to help me, please. While roughly pulling at the man, he screamed that he should be dead, and because he isn’t they have to take him to the hospital, and that he should die. He walked off.
The injured man slipped back into the pool. The second soldier helped me pull him out, while the first kept on screaming. The soldier on the wall ordered me to take care of the man. I said that I have no idea how – he has a bad gut shot, and lifted the man’s shirt to show the small hole in the stomach. I just knelt down. The man asked me to lift his mangled arm and to turn him on his side as he can’t breathe anymore. I did so, while the man grunted with pain.
The soldiers ordered a stretcher, and ordered me not to take any photos. The first soldier went towards the house. I told him that there are several foreign journalists there. At gun point he ordered them out, and ordered them to carry the injured man out on the stretcher through the door of the compound leading to the gas station. I just sat down at the house, I was nearly fainting, my hands were shaking.
It took a long time to somewhat compose myself. We heard sirens from rescue vehicle coming, and shots fired from the soldiers in the gas station. The people of the compound made us coffee. Ten, a Neow Na photographer, managed to communicate by phone with the outside world, and relayed that we were stuck here – Thilo Thielke, the Spiegel correspondent, a Indonesian camera team, a local photographer for ABC news, me, and a few protesters that were on the spot promoted to drivers of us foreign journalists.
I called my wife and several colleagues on the outside that I was safe. We heard of other journalists having been injured in the mess. The conversations over the phone how to get us out took hours. The gunfire continued for a long time. In the distance, from the direction of the stage area we heard a few M79 explosions. We did not hear any firing from the direction of Samliem Din Daeng. Appearantly the CRES, including the PM, had a top level meeting about us. The people in the compound made us all dinner.The owner of the house came, he spoke fluent German, lived many years there, and worked there about ten minutes walking distance from my dad’s apartment.
When we finished dinner, we were advised to get out from the main door of the compound, through the gas station, and walk towards the soldiers at Soi Rang Naam. We asked that soldiers could please pick us up because we don’t trust to just walk out in the open. The answer was that the soldiers would then be targeted, and they can’t pick us up. We decided that we had to find a way over the back wall. It became dark. We were told that snipers were on all high-rises, and that another, unknown, force may fight the soldiers, and that therefore it would be impossible to pick us up.
There were many more phone calls, and discussions of which way would be safe. Finally, we climbed with a ladder over the wall, where a man picked us up. The gunfire started again, rather close to us, we had to move to a safer spot at a apartment building. After some discussion we decided on the way, climbed another wall into a small Soi. People were around. We asked for the safest route out. At the top of the alley it became dark, really dark. A few Red Shirt protesters were there. We were just under the flyover at Samliem Din Daeng.
Looking out at the Soi on the right, was like staring into the abyss, smoke, and pure darkness into which the flyover disappeared. We turned left, towards Victory Monument. A few people were hiding in the shadows. Soon we came into lighter territory, many locals in front of their houses. When I reached Victory Monument I heard monks chanting. More than a hundred monks sat at the bottom of the monument, praying for an end of the killing. I took a motorcycle taxi home. My motorcycle I had to leave parked in a Soi inside the killing zone.