Alerted by a reader of another forum, last night I attended the showing of the new documentary movie about Jim Thomson's disappearance exactly 50 years ago. Held at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand near Chidlom, the film puts forward what it calls a new and definitive explanation for this most intriguing of mysteries.
I found the documentary rather boring. It rehashes a lot of old material, goes over his early life as a partisan fighter in France and then working as a member of the OSS in Asia (the forerunner of the CIA), how he fell in love with Thailand, re-started the Thai silk industry and with his natural salesman's touch quickly made it a worldwide success - much to the annoyance of several other Thai-based silk industrialists. We knew of his sudden trip to a part of Malaysia's Cameron Highlands which was the centre of the remnants of the Malayan Communist Party. After more than a week staying with friends, he walked out of the cottage without his jacket, his cigarettes and his medicine - and totally disappeared.
According to the movie, Thomson had gone on that walk for a meeting which had been finally been set up with the leader of that communist insurgency, Chin Peng. It's often forgotten that even after Independence the mainly Chinese communists in Malaysia continued their activities until 1989. For a time they had the backing of Beijing and it was known that Chin Peng had met Chinese leaders in the early 1960s who believed that Malaysia was ripe for conversion to communism. But why that would be of specific interest to Thomson has never been clarified.
The movie, using as sources mostly the children of those involved, some of whom attended the discussion session after the movie last night, suggests that the objective of the meeting was not to meet Chin Peng. It was to enlist his help in spiriting Thomson to Cambodia where he would meet with an exiled former Prime Minister of Thailand, Pridi Banomyong. Pridi had also been Regent during the final years of the young King Ananda who was studying in Switzerland. After Pridi engineered a failed coup in 1949, he fled to China and would never return. By the 1960s under King Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia maintained close relations with China. Pridi was thus able to move with relative freedom between China and Cambodia. On the other hand, with the Vietnam War underway, it was extremely difficult for Thais to travel across the border into a Cambodia that was in cahoots with communist China.
Pridi allegedly wished to meet a senior Thai official. For whatever reason, that official decided not to make the trip and Thomson was asked to go in his place. That much appears to be fact. He agreed. Whilst waiting in Malaysia there is no doubt that he would have been closely watched by Chin Peng’s guerillas. No doubt also they would have delved into his past and discovered that he had been – and perhaps still was – involved in the CIA. Wanting nothing to do with a possible American spy, during Thomson’s sudden walk from the cottage he was ambushed by the guerillas, taken by truck to some unknown destination, killed and buried in the jungle.
The film makes a more convincing theory than most but without enough real facts to back it all up. If someone could find out why Pridi wanted to meet a senior official of the Thai government 18 years after fleeing, this would have made it much more believable. As it was, a number of correspondents present were not convinced.
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