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Davis, Neil Brian (1934–1985)

from Canberra Times

Neil Davis, n.d.

Neil Davis, n.d.

Thai Government forces put down an attempted coup today by 400 to 500 soldiers led by former top military officers, but at least four people, including an Australian journalist and his American assistant, were killed in a battle at an army compound, officials said.

Australian Neil Davis and American Bill Latch, who both worked for the American network NBC, fell mortally wounded as rebel M41 and M48 tanks opened fire on the radio station to try to stop loyalist broadcasts and machinegun and pistol bursts and exploding grenades rang through the compound.

Mr Davis, 52, the network's correspondent and cameraman in Bangkok, died at the scene. Mr Latch, a soundman, died during emergency surgery several hour later. Also killed were a civilian Thai woman and a soldier. Mr Davis was a native of Hobart, and a long-term correspondent in Asia who covered Indo-China for Visnews beginning in the mid-1960s, and was based in Saigon and later in Cambodia.

He joined the NBC in 1975 and was noted as the last correspondent for an American TV network to leave Vietnam after it fell to the North Vietnamese forces that year. His film footage of North Vietnamese tanks crashing through the gates of the presidential palace was one of the most graphic accounts of the fall of the South Vietnamese regime.

In 1979, the Australian Film Commission produced a documentary called 'Frontline', dealing with Mr Davis' career as a journalist.

It was shown in Australia, the United States and Europe, earning several international film prizes and a 1981 nomination for the US Academy Award.

The Thai Government set the rebels a surrender deadline of 3pm (6pm AEST), and soldiers manning tanks in the supreme command compound, which served as the rebel base, began to throw down their arms. Government officers said all rebel soldiers had agreed to surrender.

The acting armed forces commander, General Tienchai Sirisumphun, said 59 people, 29 of them soldiers, had been wounded in a tank-led rebel attack on the army radio station. The battle had ended in 20 minutes with the rebels seriously damaging but failing to seize control of the station.

The leaders of the coup attempt had announced over Radio Thailand that they had formed a "revolutionary party" and were seizing power "to correct the seriously deteriorating situation of the economy".

General Tienchai said the coup attempt was engineered by a former Prime Minister, Mr Kriangsak Chomanand, and Colonel Manoon Rubkachorn, a former battalion commander also involved in an abortive 1981 coup, and his brother, Squadron Leader Manat Rubkachorn, a former air force officer. The brothers were reported later to have surrendered.

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Citation details

'Davis, Neil Brian (1934–1985)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/davis-neil-brian-12408/text35145, accessed 22 October 2019.

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