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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Calgary Journalist shot mid Thai prptester

Anti-government "red shirt" protesters assist Nelson Rand after the photojournalist from Calgary was shot three times -- in the leg, wrist and abdomen -- while covering clashes in Bangkok on Thursday. Rand is expected to re-
Photograph by: Adrees Latif, Reuters, Calgary Herald

Parents relieved after son's four-hour operation

By Jason Van Rassel, Calgary Herald May 15, 2010

T elling stories that have gone untold has taken Calgary native Nelson Rand to the jungles of Cambodia and into the middle of political violence now gripping Thailand, where he was seriously wounded by three bullets Friday while reporting on anti-government protests.

Rand, 34 , is in stable condition at a Bangkok hospital after a four-hour operation to treat bullet wounds to his leg, abdomen and wrist -- news that offered his shaken parents some measure of comfort on Friday.

"We are very optimistic," said his father, Serge Rand.

The day didn't start that way for Serge and Barbara Rand.

A telephone outage Friday morning meant rather than a phone call from an official, the first indication they had their son had been hurt was an e-mail from a friend asking about his "condition."

The query prompted them to search the Internet, where they quickly found news articles about the shooting.

"We were broken up," Serge said of their reaction.

They were still waiting to speak to Nelson on Friday, but had received enough information through his friends and officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs to ease their minds.

Rand has lived in Asia for about a decade and was based in Bangkok, where his most recent job was working for the TV network France 24.

Sixteen people have died and 141 have been hurt in clashes between the Thai army and so-called "red shirt" protesters who have occupied portions of central Bangkok for the past six weeks.

The political instability that gave rise to the current unrest goes back even further and is rooted in a divide between mainly monarchist urban elites who support Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The "red shirts" are mainly poor urban and rural dwellers who support former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist billionaire ousted in a 2006 coup.

Rand, who has lived in Bangkok for several years, didn't shy away from danger, said George McLeod, a longtime friend and fellow journalist.

"He's one of the few people who gets on the front line and is willing to put himself in harm's way," McLeod said. "It worries me, but I would put his bravery as a journalist far ahead of mine."

McLeod, a freelance journalist who is currently based in Bangladesh, said he met Rand in 1998 and discovered they had a common objective: to seek out and report on the last remnants of Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s.

After its ouster in 1979, the Khmer Rouge retreated to the jungle and continued to wage a guerrilla war against the government.

Since then, Rand has spent two months in the jungles of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, with the ethnic Karen people, and has journeyed to southern Thailand, where a long-simmering -- and largely unreported -- Muslim insurgency has been escalating since 2005. Last year, he wrote a book about his experiences with rebel armies and persecuted ethnic minorities in countries such as Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

"He's devoted his life to highlighting these issues that don't get reported in the western media -- and I think that's admirable," McLeod said.

The jungles of Southeast Asia are a long way from Alberta, where Rand spent his early childhood in Red Deer, and later years in Calgary.

His parents said his interest in Southeast Asia was fuelled by a trip he took to Vietnam during a year off following high school.

After obtaining bachelor and master's degrees in Asian studies from the University of British Columbia, Rand returned to Asia -- and for the most part, hasn't left.

Rand once worked as a contractor for the Canadian Embassy in Bangkok, but has carved out a reputation as a passionate journalist who goes to great lengths to tell stories that are often overlooked in the West.

"We have always kept in touch and we're very proud of what he's accomplished," Serge said.

Because of the instability in Thailand, Rand's parents have been advised not to go there.

They're now waiting to meet him in another country -- and are hopeful he might come back to Canada, if even temporarily.

"He has to decide whether he comes back. We'd like him to recuperate here, if possible," Serge said.

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